Beryl just prior to entering monastery in 1957



The Cross River, frozen in winter, flows beneath the ice into Lake Superior

A cup of tea and biscotti to encourage the writer

Another Blog?


Besides the travel and spirituality blogs I write (see links in right hand column)I'm adding a fourth blog for those of you who might be interested in the random musings of a writer.

Author's Guild does not provide an option for posting photos or links within the blog page -- important options for keeping a reader's interest. As such, this blog might be a solo effort, one writer who is also the one reader. Nonetheless, it offers me a place to make notes about what I'm reading, watching, doing, feeling, seeing, and thinking.

My writing shed doesn't look like much, but it's a charmer inside: bright and welcoming.

Random Musings

Scent of God on Sale at $1.99 for 7 days

December 18, 2014

Tags: Book Sale, the Scent of God, Memoir, Beryl Singleton Bissell, Kindle

The Scent of God (kindle) will be available for $ 1.99 (list $7.99) — part of a 7-day countdown sale during which the price will remain $1.99.

Don’t forget that books make great gifts. This sale will enable you to get that last minute Christmas gifts for your loved ones and friends at a greatly reduced price.

Have blessed holiday and peaceful New Year. Travel safely, avoid too much eggnog, savor your favorite foods and delight in shared friendship.

Thanks for your support of this book and ongoing encouragement.

An Explanation of the spiritual term Kenosis

July 25, 2013

Tags: definition of kenosis, kenosis, House of Prayer, Episcopal House of Prayer, Spirituality, retreats, Ward Bauman

For those of you who have asked for a further explanation of Kenosis, these reflections from the Director of the House of Prayer -- the Rev. Ward Bauman -- will elucidate.

A reflection from the Kenosis retreat, 2013:

"True knowledge of God is that which is known by unknowing." (Cloud of Unknowing)

One of the primary practices of all spiritual work is detachment, the learned behavior of "letting go" and not clinging. This is primarily true of wisdom, that is, spiritual knowledge.

The great paradox is that we cannot find it by grasping it. In other words, going to another conference, reading another book, or hearing another teaching will not ultimately be the knowledge that we seek and need.

This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons of the spiritual life. We in the West do not get it. It is so antithetical to everything we’ve learned. But this is core to coming to spiritual truth. It also points to the heart of our spiritual malady, pride. True wisdom comes only through true humility. Here the crack in our armory creates an entrance for the divine light.

Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the beginning and foundation to all spiritual work.

The Chinese philosopher, Chuang-tzu said:
Consider a window; it is just
a hole in the wall, but because of it
the whole room is filled with light.
Thus, when the mind is open
and free of its own thoughts,
life unfolds effortlessly,
and the whole world is filled with light.
(The Second Book of the Tao, Stephen Mitchell)

When our hearts are open and free of constructs, we become channels for spiritual light. When we are unburdened with cumbersome and restricting ideas, something new can emerge. When we are emptied of self-focus, we can begin to see the bigger picture. This, then, becomes the practice of prayer; in self-emptying we become free and receptive for "true knowledge."


The House of Prayer and a Kenosis Retreat

July 1, 2013

Tags: Kenosis, Episcopal House of Prayer, Spirituality, prayer, spiritual retreats

”Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion (or perhaps the word “clarity’ will do as well), a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.” -- Richard Niebuhr

I've just returned from a territory not my own:. A Kenosis (or self-emptying) retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer on St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, MN. The House of Prayer is an exquisite retreat house of wood and stone, with Gothic windows, quiet spaces, an oratory with a soaring tiered scallop of panels reaching toward the light. There were twelve retreatants and a retreat master--the Director of the House of Prayer: gentle, erudite, and compassionate Reverend Ward Bauman, who with his brother Lynn Bauman and Cynthia Bourgeault worked to translate The Luminous Gospels: Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip. Bauman is also the author of Sacred Food for Soulful Living, a cookbook of recipes from the House of Prayer kitchen who, besides guiding us and leading all the meditation sessions, also prepared our every meal which was the most delicious vegetarian food I've ever eaten.

I entered the retreat, determined that I was going to “make it” this time. I’d empty myself and travel into the fullness of God’s presence. So intent was I on making this retreat the “retreat of all retreats” that I got caught up in trying to force self-emptying even though I knew that all meditation requires is the willingness to participate. . . that the action is God’s. Confronted with myself as full of myself, I was miserable. Perhaps I wasn't meant to achieve divine union, I thought, but if this was so, why the more than 50 years of yearning and search for this grace? Why the desire if God did not mean than I take this journey?

There’s nothing quite like smashing into oneself. It’s a humbling and grace-filled encounter with darkness which brought me to the point where all I could do was accept where I was at and be grateful I was anywhere at all. It wasn't until the final two days of this intense silent retreat that I found myself willing to be where I was, as I was, and in that acceptance I fell into God. For a time, at least. As Niebuhr says, Pilgrims are persons in motion, seeking a completion to which only the spirit’s compass points the way. The spirit is always at work even when we’re off track, leading us gently back to where we belong.

Aaron Paul Lazar shares his Next Big Thing

March 19, 2013

Tags: Aaron Paul Lazar, Next Big Thing, fiction, writing life, mystery, series

Update: March 19, 2013. Aaron Lazar's Next Big Thing
Aaron Lazar is one of the most prolific authors I know, which is why I'm so pleased to feature Aaron’s Next Big Thing Interview . I met Aaron on Gather.com, a wonderful and diverse online community of writers, six or seven years ago. Since then I have watched in amazement as Aaron delivers one intriguing, suspense-laden yet heart-warming mystery after another. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? You'll have to read Aaron's work to discover what I mean.

The LeGarde Mysteries Series, Moore Mysteries Series, and Tall Pine Series -- each featuring different protagonists -- propel readers through the Genesee Valley, Adirondack Mountains, and even Paris, the city of lights. His latest book, For Keeps, features family doctor Sam Moore who wants nothing more than a quiet life with his wife yet is drawn constantly into one mystery after another. Please do check out Aaron’s Next Big Thing Blog and his Author’s Website .

Hard Magic: John Caruso's Next Big Thing

March 18, 2013

Tags: Hard Magic, YA fiction, John Caruso, new book

What joy it gives me to feature writers whose work I admire as I promised last week, Do visit John Caruso's blog, and his Next Big Thing interview.

I tagged John for this blog-hopping as he is a brilliant writer and I'd like him to receive the exposure he so well deserves. John recently published his second book, Hard Magic, which I've just begun reading and find myself totally, inexorably engrossed in the magical, mysterious world he so vividly portrays.

Beryl talks about her upcoming book.

March 18, 2013

Tags: writing, fiction, nonfiction, memoir, Beryl Singleton Bissell

FROM THE AUTHOR

Do you find the term “tagging” confusing? I do. Most often you've probably been “tagged” in a photo or a post, yet you fail to find yourself either in the photo or in the post. Thanks to my dear friend Christin Lore Weber, I've now experienced a form of “tagging” that does make sense. It’s called The Next Big Thing in which writers “lift up their Next Big Thing for the entire world to see . . . most often right in the midst of writing it.” So, thanks to Christin for tagging me. Please check out Christin’s Next Big Thing . Christin is a brilliant blogger and scintillating author whose work you will not want to miss.

In the next couple of days, I’ll post links to the Next Big Thing bloggers I've “tagged,” for this project.

Beryl’s responses to the Next Big Thing interview:

What is your working title of your book?
The title, besides the cover, is often the writer’s most important tool for drawing the interest of the reader. My current project has born several titles. The most recent comes from the creative mind of the woman who bestowed the title -- The Scent of God -- on my first book. She drew the title The Glass Chrysalis from a chapter in my current work which refers to Butterflies and the emergence of their offspring.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
After my memoir The Scent of God was released, I was inundated with queries asking why I had stopped the book when I did. They asked for a sequel. Even more pressing was my desire to tell the story which burns in my heart and demands release. I've been working on the sequel ever since. “When can we buy it?” readers constantly ask. I have no answer. I’m still working on it.

What genre does your book fall under?
I don’t believe there is a defined genre for this work. I would call it a literary memoir in fictional form – in other words, a true story told as fiction. I assumed this format recently because I felt trapped within my own voice and vision. I needed to step outside myself in order to find the truth beneath the story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
This is the story of a mother’s search to understand and forgive the choices she made that might have contributed to her daughter’s violent death; a mother’s effort to free her child as she could not do during life.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
While my first book received national acclaim, it did not become the best-seller the publisher expected and has still not earned back the substantial advance royalty it was awarded. The current publishing environment is a difficult one for new and mid-level authors. As a result, many have turned to self-publishing as a friendlier and more financially lucrative option. I might eventually choose this route, though I will probably run this work by my agent first.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I've been through so many drafts that I've lost count. As I only decided to take the book into fictional format within the past month, you could say I've just begun the first draft. This draft, however, feels more rewarding and exciting, so I think I’m on the right track.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s Worst Nightmare by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry
Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine.
The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story by Julie Meyerson.
My Daughter’s Addiction: A Thief in the Family – Hardwired for Heroinby Marie Minnich.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I actually began writing this book many years ago in daily journals which became my most trusted confidants during the years of anguish and fear that followed my first husband’s death (where The Scent of God ended) and that leads to my daughter’s death and its aftermath.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Those who read The Scent of God will be the first to seize on this book. Parents of children suffering from depression and mental torment and those whose children are addicted to alcohol and drugs will find their stories in this work. The damage inflicted by those who disguise abuse as love, and the anguish and confusion that result from the sudden violent death of a child or loved one, add other engrossing dimensions to pique interest. It will conclude with the letters I wrote to my daughter after her death.

Writing my way to healing

October 14, 2012

Tags: healing found in writing, spiritual, memoir, beryl singleton bissell, writing, transformation, life, love, Thomas Merton

Our lives often remind me of small boats riding the currents of life. When things go well, we skim safely along the surface without encountering danger. We make choices to try to maintain control over the direction in which we are sailing. Some of these choices are good ones. Some not so good. Unlike the choices that result in tragedies at sea, the choices we make seldom doom us to total shipwreck. Nevertheless, the choices we make often have an uncanny ability to surprise and wound us.

Our home overlooks Lake Superior. It has a great view of the lake with it ever changing moods: reflective, agitated, violent, soothing. Our lake view also contains a monster rock that hides around 50 feet offshore. I've nicknamed it Nessie, after the Loch Ness monster, because it appeared suddenly one day as I sat watching the lake. I heard a gurgle, saw a wet black back emerge to shimmer briefly in the sunlight then watched it disappear again under the waves. The water level in the lake was then several inches higher than it is now. Nessie no longer hides under the lake’s surface. She can’t. The water levels are too low. She’s been exposed because of drought.

While most of us prefer our journeys smooth, life does not cater to that desire. Circumstances can so stress and disturb us that our spirits enter a drought of sorts, revealing the rocks we'd inadvertently encountered. It was during such a period of drought that I overheard my son say that he thought he was damned. Why? Because his mother had been a nun and his father a priest. I was stunned. Yes. Life had been hard since their father died when they were toddlers, but why had they drawn such a conclusion? While they'd know about life "after daddy," they knew nothing about "before daddy." I wanted them to know about the love that brought Vittorio and me together, the love with which we’d greeted each of their arrivals. It was a complex story, one impossible to tell in a few sittings. And so I began to write what I thought was a love story and discovered that beneath my surface competence, I harbored the same doubts my children did. Was Vittorio's painful death from pancreatic cancer and the suffering that followed in its wake punishment for the choices we'd made?

As a teenager, I’d experienced God in such an overwhelming, unforgettable way – a love so consuming and unconditional – that I pursued it into a monastery thinking I’d be lifted to the heights of sanctity within that hallowed atmosphere. I was so wrong. Rather than saint in the making, I discovered the same compulsive/obsessive behavior that I’d condemned in my father. He was an alcoholic. I became an anorexic. I discovered that I could get as ragingly angry as my mother. That rather than disappearing into the cloister, I wanted to be noticed, to be special. What a shock that was. And when I was sent home to Puerto Rico to help my invalid father, rather than the devout and retiring nun everyone thought I was (including myself), I discovered I was sensual. That freedom intoxicated me. And that yes, I could fall in love.

It’s interesting how we learn to live with and to cope with ambiguity without really understanding or examining what is happening. When I was in Puerto Rico falling in love with Padre Vittorio I became two selves at war with one another. One wanted to stay faithful to my vows. The other wanted to be loved. To survive I called a truce. I would view our love as God’s gift. We would love one another utilizing all the proper channels. We sought dispensation from our vows, waited until the church accepted our request, then married. When our little girl almost died at birth and when Vittorio simultaneously began his death journey through pancreatic cancer, I buried the doubts that maybe we’d deceived ourselves. That maybe our love was not God’s gift. And I’d kept those doubts buried until writing revealed them. In writing a memoir, I'd had to dive under the surface waves of my story, and, in doing so, I discovered that the rocks I found there had transformed from hidden dangers to islands of refuge and rescue. I discovered that far from punishing us, God had been with us throughout our journey. I encountered the goodness radiating from within my parent’s tormented lives, touched Vittorio’s anguish as he struggled to live for his children, and passed from my own loss to enter the children’s grief. The deeper I went, the more tears I shed, but eventually those tears cleared the murky waters in which I swam. I discovered that by reconnecting with my past, I can move more honestly and bravely into the future, no matter what that future holds.

The late Thomas Merton, famed author and beloved spiritual guide, wrote that "When we live superficially, we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives."

Thanks to writing, I continue the journey to an ever deeper awareness of who I really am. Writing opened a channel leading to my inner truth and I bless the gift it has shared with me. (more…)

Back in my writing shed and darn happy to be there

September 28, 2012

Tags: writing life, author, books, memoirs, fall color, writing shed, author events

Not only has the desire to write returned, I've had a sudden boost of courage. I'd avoided the writing shed for so long that I felt like apologizing every time I passed it. Well, I've been forgiven, and am working like crazy to reshape the sequel to the Scent of God. Trouble is, I keep slipping back into my old habit of editing as I go. I've worked on the same 10 pages for three days. I guess this proves I'm not a global thinker. Global thinkers don't get caught up in details but see the whole picture. Wanting to be a Global thinker, I just printed up every chapter I've got and plan to lay it out on the floor and create a map. Some authors tape chapters to the wall. I haven't got much wall space, but then neither do I have a lot of floor space. The writing shed is 10' x 10'.

I'm also now back on my feet and can manage five miles on flat terrain, three miles on hills and hiking trails requires hot baths and Advil. For that matter, hot baths and Advil take the ache out of those 5 mile jaunts as well.

Highway 61 is clogged with visitors heading north to view fall color which is at its peak right now. Our hills are flaming with maples and aspen. An evening drive into the hills as the sun drops toward the horizon demands belief in some greater creative power.

Best Selling Book

August 17, 2012

Tags: writing life, author, books, memoirs, independent bookstores, author events

Never underestimate the power of an enthusiastic bookseller. Yesterday, I learned that The Scent of God had made the best-seller list at Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville, "all because Heidi, one of the women at the store is crazy for your book and makes everyone buy it." The note was signed by Ann Patchett, who opened Parnassus Bookstore with business partner Karen Hayes to fill a gap left when two bookstores closed. What a thrill, especially as some book distributors say they can't get copies to sell even when customers request the book.

Last week, I drove five hours to sign books at Sister Wolf Book Store in Park Rapids. Sister Wolf is a popular independent known for it's exciting author and artist festival every summer that attracts people from all over. I'd had to cancel my appearance at that event due to a severe injury and was delighted when they requested I make a separate appearance when I was finally healed enough to commute a long distance. Again, enthusiastic booksellers directed patrons toward "the author in the store," making the signing, which can sometimes bomb (customers scurrying around the author and avoiding eye contact), a success.

I left Park Rapids later that afternoon and drove down to Little Falls, an hour and a half away for two events to be held the following day at Bookin’It Bookstore : a signing in the morning and an intimate three-course tea at the historic Waller House Inn later that afternoon. A good friend and book fan made arrangements for me to stay at the Franciscan Sisters Little Falls MN in a charming little hermitage where I recaptured the sense of quiet I so love. Bookin'it's cozy store was another wonderful surprise, introducing me to the lively owner Laura and her staff. Laura was everywhere with her camera during the tea at the Inn. We feasted on a delicious three course tea and the writing life and my work with an enthusiastic group of book-lovers at the tea. Then back to the monastery to rest before meeting two of that lively group for supper in town.

Those three great happenings launched me back to my computer where the response to my latest newsletter generated several hundred wonderful responses waiting for my replies, and into the writing shed to pick up the abandoned sequel to The Scent of God for a fresh look prior to an extensive rewrite.

I hope your week has been equally generous with you even though the halcyon days of summer are growing perceptively shorter and there's a definite hint of fall in the air here on Lake Superior.

Finding happiness midst disability

June 27, 2012

Tags: pain, acceptance, patience, disability, finding happiness

Once I stopped fighting
And gave myself up to
limitation and pain
I realized how supremely happy I was
Just being here

On May 29, I slipped on a stairway and landed hard on my backside. First diagnosis revealed cracked open right and left sacroiliac joints. Three weeks later I wasn’t making the expected improvements despite the medication, ice packs and physical therapy, so the doctor ordered a CT scan. This diagnosis included, besides the sacroiliac joints, two hairline fractures in the sacrum itself.
For almost a month I’ve been hobbling around using a walker, frustrated out of my mind at the limitations this accident place on me. The smallest movements send spasms of pain throughout my legs, lower back and buttocks. I have been unable to go downstairs to my office or walk to my writing shed. I am confined to a home in one of the most beautiful places on earth but unable to get outside for even a short walk. Fixing a meal is all but impossible. Forget cleaning up. Six days ago I started to weep. My 13-year old granddaughter, whose been trying to help, put her arms around me and laid her head against mine. She’s been an angel and I could not manage on my own without her help but a 13-year old is not into noticing what needs to be done and I hate asking for help. Feeling sorry for myself sends my self-esteem plummeting. I don’t even feel like a writer. I’ve had to cancel book signings, a gathering of writing friends five hours from here, and a 10-day retreat. I haven’t even wanted to write.
But guess what? Today, while sitting on our deck, face turned to the sun, I realized what a good time I’ve really been having. I’ve discovered that by bending to the right rather than to the left I can pull on pants and tie my shoes. I’ve learned that placing my left foot flat on the ground as I step forward with my right alleviates the spasms caused by walking. That a really soft pillow cushions the pain of sitting down and a cup of afternoon tea provided by a precious teenager is simply delicious.
In giving myself up to healing, I’ve had time to read back issues of favorite magazines that have been amassing on a side table for close to a year; to make a perceptive dent in the heap of books I keep buying but never found time to read. I've watched the gold-finches and hummingbirds at our feeders and listened to the lake caress our ledge-rock. I’ve taught my granddaughter how to create hand-made cards with the flowers I dried for that purpose but never got around to. Sending her to report on the status of our river after weeks of pouring rain, revealed the poet hiding within her. Today I sat on the deck and gazed upward at the cloudless sky and realized how totally, thoroughly, happy I am. (more…)

My Work

BOOKS
The collision of human love and faith
An impetuous move to Lake Superior transforms a life
ESSAY
While writing The Scent of God
ANTHOLOGY
"Seven Years in Hell"

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