on honouring our Work…

It is solved by walking
It is solved by walking… (photo by Tracy Hammond, near St Peter’s Abbey, Muenster SK 2016)

This morning, at breakfast, I was gifted a very very wise piece of advice passed from Louise B. Halfe through David Carpenter (Carp).

On learning that he called his manuscript “the thing” and had it shoved in a drawer…afraid of it…overwhelmed by it… she advised him to never mistreat or diminish his work like that.  She told him that she offers tobacco for/to/with her manuscript.  That by doing so, she honours it.  Not just the words on the page, but everything that has gone into the work.

She told him that we must honour our work.

He wasn’t sure how to proceed.  How to honour his work.  Could he set out tobacco too?  “But I’m white,” he said.

She said, “You don’t have to be Native to honour your work.”

So Dave did what Louise suggested.  He sprinkled tobacco all over his manuscript, as a way to honour it.  He left it in that drawer for a while longer and when he pulled it out to work on it, things came together, made sense in a way he had not seen before.

When he told Louise what he had done—sprinkling the tobacco all over the manuscript, she looked appalled.

“Oh no,” he thought.  “I’ve done it all wrong.  I’ve CURSED my manuscript or disrespected an ancient rite.”

Louise said, “You poured tobacco all over it?  But that would make such a MESS!  I just put the whole pouch of tobacco in with the manuscript.”

We laughed, but as Carp told this story, I got shivers up the body… A huge YES!—bringing this story into my heart.

I, too, often (and too often) call this manuscript “the Thing”… I must make this shift.  Towards honouring it.

I grow more and more conscious of the fact that am weaving this story (and all my stories) along with the Creator.  How can I then … dismiss… judge…wound and degrade this work?

Back in my room, I sit and contemplate this story.  The wee voice inside begins to speak to me.

Not to build it up – but do you not think that this is your sacred work?


And why do you think that, to speak of the work this way is “building it up” into some snobby/elitist thing?  It isn’t.  It is a simple acknowledgement of what is.

I like that.  I feel that is true.  And yet, I am stunned by it as well.  I turn away from the wee voice and begin to scribble, which is how I work things out for myself.  I write…

It’s all well and good for really great writers like Mary Oliver to say this sort of thing but…me?  That’s just kooky-banannas talk and horribly presumptuous.

And the voice comes back…

But we are not talking about you.  About building your self up.  We are talking about the work.  This work (writing) is sacred.  Right?  And by “sacred”, I do not mean “precious” as in–oh my words are so precious.  That isn’t it at all.  What I mean is … this is holy work.  This is prayer.  This is incantation. This is hard, sacred, work.

I stop.  I whisper, “Yes.”  I hold this yes. I take it with me on my morning walk into town with a fellow writer.

Yes.  I do think that  writing–crafting stories, weaving poems–is sacred work.  Yes.

I forget, sometimes, especially when I start to think, “Oh if only I could write something that would SELL!”  moan moan panic moan “Then we could jack up the camp and re-insulate and… and… and…”

I forget why I do this.  I get distracted.

I am grateful for these reminders, that come to me ever more frequently, about why I do what I do.  Why I have built my life to allow me to do what I do.

A big part of this work, for me, is to keep the communication with the Creator open.


And what comes of this open channel—I must not disparage.

We must honour our Work.


Today… I will seek ways to make this shift—away from viewing this manuscript as a THiNG I am wrestling with, and towards… A gift I am being given.  An invitation to work in concert with the Creator.

For now… there is this… a poem by Mary Oliver…


by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old?  Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?  Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be


The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever

And here is Mary, herself, reading I Happen to be Standing on NPR.

I so love her.

As I love Carp and Louise Halfe.  You can find them and begin to trace the line to their works by following these links…



And…before I go back to work…and back to the thinking about the work I do and why I do it…

Here is Louise reading her poem Success in Spite of on BBC radio’s Poetry Postcard series.


Gives me shivers.

Go easy~p

PS – Thanks, Carp, for sharing this story with us and allowing me to share it here. Apologies if I’ve mistold it at all.  You tell it better, my friend.  I am so honoured to be here at St Pete’s with you right now–listening to your tales and working alongside of you. Thank you.

Also… I am ENTIRELY looking forward to our banjo sing along this evening!

11 Comments on “on honouring our Work…

  1. I like to think of my time at St Pete’s as an honouring of the work. It’s just me and the words with the occasional chickadee or writer. I don’t get that at any other place in my life.

    • Mmmmm…yes. This is a good place for the honouring of the work. And the nurturing of the writers.

      I am quite caught up with this idea…this shift in perspective.
      It makes me so… happy.

      And tonight…we sang for over two hours…

      So sweet.

      Be well, B.

      Go easy ~p

      • So sad to miss the singing! All I sang was a chorus of cusswords to my computer while attempting to learn to use the new database. Not pretty! Tell Carp I am sorry to miss the fun and that I was saddened by the passing of Ronnie Gilbert this summer.

        As to honouring the work, it’s not separate from honouring the self so far as I can tell. Thing is, I was never taught to do that, so it’s a huuuuge learning curve. But I know that the passion I hold for writing is part of it, too.

  2. Numinous. That is what we touch when we write. The numinous. That wellspring of the divine that is received from without, interpreted through our lens of humanity, colored by our unique blend of experience, and poured out, like liquid metal on the sand, into the mold, onto the page. Hardened, tempered, edited, crafted, it stands as an eternal casting of our path on this earth.

    Only the truly alive can write, make these marks upon our culture. Our characters all say “My parent, my author, made me so. My actions, my dialog, my appearance, are all designed to deliver this message, ask these questions, say these lines. For my author/parent believes these things are important.”

    I remain quite envious of your incredible fortune in discovering the Abbey, and its importance in your life. Thank you for sharing it with us, Pam.

  3. It is so difficult not to measure our works’ worth by how well it sells. Damn near impossible for me, actually. But I am learning. I cannot tell you how many times people have said, “You should make more of those and sell them” regarding a craft. Or, when I decided to take up photography, people started making suggestions as to how I could make money with it. It distracts me, and I get off track of my original purpose, which was only to improve a basic skill, and learn something new. Our value is too often measured by how much money we make. Thank God I have my husband and at least one friend who understands why it is I do what I do and the value in it all.
    I love to write, and if I ever decide to to attempt a book, it will be a secret. It needs to be kept out of the hands that would place deadlines on it and call it a waste of time if it never sees the light of day. God knows, I’ve put enough words to paper over the years to fill a thick novel, and none of it was a waste of time as it has helped me better understand myself and the world.
    Have a great week,

    • Sure do like your friends, Pam. After my book was published, I was asked if I was going to get a real job now. The disconnect of that individual from what my life is, never loomed so large as it did in that moment. But there are others who totally get it. And they’re the ones I get to hang with at places like St Peter’s.

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Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

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