A Day After the Love Fest--On Writing


The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that's on a good day.

-Robert DeNiro, at the 2015 Oscars

I posted that quote to Facebook one year ago today. It's a fitting counterbalance to all of yesterday's well-wishes from so many of you. I am humbled to have been honored by the Presbyterian Writers Guild this year, and look forward to celebrating at this summer's General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Next stop, Portland!

Many years ago when I was just getting started, a fellow writer asked me, "What are your aspirations for your writing?" I said, "To write and be read." That's still the sum of it. At that point I had a blog and had written a few poems and articles, but that was it. Even now, I look at the list of past honorees for this award and feel a generous dose of impostor syndrome, thinking about the stacks of books they have put into the world, books I have read over the course of my life and that have made me who I am. When Brené Brown talks about the vulnerability hangover, I get it.

Then again, my tech-support husband recently archived a now-defunct blog of mine and it capped out at 1,400 pages--and that didn't include the thousands of comments, as readers, fellow bloggers, and random passersby dug into all kinds of topics about the sacred and the secular, the humorous and the heartbreaking, and all of the above at once. To write and be read, indeed.

Maybe I'll mine that material for future projects. But perhaps not. Some writing is meant to be like a sand painting that disappears when the tide comes in. Most sermons are that way. As Annie Dillard famously said:

Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. ...Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.

But you know what's the most special thing about all of this? It's not the award itself, grateful though I am. It's the fact that a person took the time to nominate me. Many preachers talk about writing sermons with particular people in mind. Many writers do the same, even if that person is themselves. It helps to picture someone specific who receives what you have to offer: someone who may need your words, or who simply bears witness when you say it for yourself. Someone who will nod, or challenge, or wince, or say "Thank you, I thought I was the only one."

So thank you, BPL. The gift of your kindness overwhelms me. And if I may make a modest proposal to the selection committee: contact the other writers who were nominated and tell them a reader took the time to put into words what their writing meant to them. It will make their day, I guarantee it.


Photo: Writer's Block by Neil Sanche, used under a creative commons license.

Lent Starts Next Week. We'll Get You Ready.

3336213146_3985bdd0ef_z A version of this went out to my email list yesterday. Just a few days left to sign up to receive Reflections for Lent! Read on:

It's hard to believe Ash Wednesday is next Wednesday, February 10. But you'll be ready... well, as ready as one can be for the mystery of this holy season leading up to Easter.

I've been working to format the Lent reflections I wrote for Chalice Press in 2012--adding new content and designing a simple document that you can can either print or read on a screen using a clickable table of contents.

This resource will be available for free and only for newsletter subscribers. Thank you for your support and friendship over the years! If you're not an email subscriber and would like to receive it too, subscribe here.

In the meantime, and to tide you over, here are a few articles that have captivated me lately:

Email subscribers will hear from me again early next week. In the meantime, peace be with you.


Image is "Lent 1" from mtgf93, found through Flickr and used under a creative commons license. 

Thanks from The Blue Room... And More Free Stuff

This went out this morning to my email newsletter, but I didn't want my blog readers to miss out: More free stuff

It's been a couple of weeks since I released Gate of the Year: 2015, 2016 and Beyond as a free PDF for subscribers to my email newsletter.

It was so much fun to give away free stuff.

I want to do it again.

Four years ago, Chalice Press published Fellowship of Prayer, a series of reflections I wrote for the season of Lent (the forty days leading up to Easter). That resource is now out of print, because they publish a new one every year from a different author. But I'm excited to be able to offer it to you this year, for free.

I'm still working out the details, format and title, but this book will be shared in electronic format with email subscribers before Lent begins on Wednesday, February 10. And because I know many of you read the original Fellowship of Prayer when it came out, some of the content will be new, just to keep things interesting!

Each day's entry will include a verse of scripture, a short reflection, and a brief concluding prayer. I'm excited to offer it to you to help you prepare yourself for the message of Easter, and I hope you'll get a lot out of it.

An important note. I know many of my readers come from religious traditions outside of Christianity, or have no specific religious tradition in particular. I'm glad you're here--your presence helps make me a more expansive writer and thinker. You're most welcome to download and use this resource as a general way of centering each day. Or just sit tight--as you know, we cover all sorts of topics here at the Blue Room.

So--new stuff is coming. If you're an email subscriber you don't need to do anything to receive it--a download link will come your way in February. If you're not, don't miss out. MailChimp makes it easy to subscribe--and unsubscribe, for that matter. But I hope you'll stick around for articles and links you can't get here at the blog.

And once again--Happy New Year!

It All Started with Christmas Music

I created my first blog for 12 years ago today. It's long since abandoned--The Blue Room is blog #3 for me--but I still remember the first post: a taxonomy of Christmas music to blow off steam during the height of Clergy Superbowl stress. I think about three people read it, all with the last name McKibben. So much has changed in me... and in the Internet. Blogs aren't what they used to be, although I'm grateful people stop by here to read what I have to say.

In honor of that silly first post about Christmas music, I share this graphic that came across Facebook last week, created (I think) by John Shouse and shared by my friend Cathy Boyd. Brilliant!

a taxonomy of christmas music

Merry Christmas!

And Happy New Year! ...It'll be even happier if you sign up to receive Gate of the Year, a free workbook/playbook to help you do a review of 2015 and set intentions and visions for 2016. Learn more here. Sign up here.

A Blue Room Reboot

Here's a note I sent to my email subscribers yesterday. I won't always post emails here, but this was a special one because it represents the re-launch of the email list. So if you'd like to be part of it, subscribe here so you won't miss a thing. Dear friends...

It's been a long time since I've been in touch with you, but changes are afoot and I'm excited to share them with you.

A few months ago I stepped down as pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church. It's been a wonderful 12 years in parish ministry, with the last five at the place many of you know as "Tiny Church." For the past few years I've been balancing pastoring with writing and speaking, and over that time the writing/speaking vocation has grown by leaps and bounds. Now I see my ministry as one to you all--church leaders, or not; seekers; the religious and the spiritual--those who are seeking to live authentically and wholeheartedly.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 4.29.25 PMI'll be honest and say that this period hasn't been easy. Life feels strange untethered from a church. Being a "free-range pastor" has felt a little like Inigo Montoya at the end of The Princess Bride--he was so singularly focused on the path he was on that when the quest is over, he's not sure what to do with himself.

Unlike Inigo, I don't intend to become a Dread Pirate.

But I don't know quite what the next chapter will look like. I'm improvising it as much as possible, saying yes to opportunities and doing "the next right thing." I've got a few different book projects in development and am scheduling conferences and retreats for 2016. But it's the day-to-day rhythms that are all off. What does my "work day" look like? Who is helping hold me accountable? How do I decide what to focus on when so many of my deadlines are self-imposed?

I don't know.

One thing I do know, however, is that I want to keep in better touch with you all through this email list--not to promote my work (though when big things happen, you'll be among the first to know), but to share things I'm excited about and struggling with--bits of life and culture and faith--and to hear back from you about the things that make you wonder and struggle and celebrate.

This space is a work in progress, in other words. But here's what I do know.

This space will be a place for beauty. And creativity. We all get emails asking for our time or our money, yelling and clamoring for our attention. The Blue Room email will not be that. Instead it will be nourishing words, thoughts, links, and images that provide a little exhale in the midst of an electronic space that too often seems to pulsate with urgency and stress.

This space will seek to engage the world thoughtfully. One of my favorite questions posed by a professor I knew: would you rather be wrong or boring? I'd always rather risk being wrong (which is good because I frequently am), in the service of thinking about things in a new way and helping others do the same. There are plenty of places where you can get click-bait, pithy "listicles" and bumper-sticker platitudes. This is not the place for that... (though I do love a good listicle now and then).

This space will help nurture community. Yes, an email list is a mostly one-sided forum. But I love it when you respond (and replies to the email go directly to me), and I want to share the good work that friends are involved in.

What's the catch? There is none. This is my offering to you in gratitude for your support over the years. It's also way to nurture my own spiritual life, since I too need beauty, nuance and community.

But one note--I will be sending these messages a bit more frequently than once in a blue moon. I'm thinking 1-2 times a month. If you're in for that, do nothing and the emails will keep coming. [Or if you're reading this on the blog, subscribe!] If you're not, I totally understand--and you can unsubscribe easily.

Several years ago I named my website The Blue Room after the dining room in our house. We had three tiny children at the time and weren't using it as a formal dining room. So we transformed it into a study and an arts and crafts space. For me, "The Blue Room" symbolizes taking something that doesn't fit and doing something new and authentically "you" with it. That's the kind of journey we'll be on together. Who knows where it will lead? I hope you'll be along for the ride.

With a blessing, MaryAnn

To subscribe to The Blue Room Email, click here.

"Touch My (Survey)Monkey!"


I announced today in my email newsletter (are you subscribed?) that my next book will be released in May as an ebook, called Spirituality in the Smartphone Age:

Social media, iPads and smartphones enable us to stay connected as never before, but more and more of us are finding it difficult to establish a life-giving balance. Many folks lament that the Internet is decimating our attention spans and weakening our relationships "in real life." This book will not "bash" technology, but will provide spiritual grounding and practical wisdom to help people navigate the joys and perils of the digital age, ever-changing yet here to stay.

As part of my work on the book, I've gotten intrigued by the Enneagram personality types and how these types may engage and experience social media differently. I've put together a short survey on SurveyMonkey on that topic, and will share the results as a free resource prior to the book's launch. It's not scientific---more intended to start a conversation.

Know your Enneagram number? Willing to answer 10 confidential questions, with an option to sign up for further conversation? Click here.

Survey will close Friday.


Blog title and photo come from a verrrrry old SNL skit. I'm dating myself.

Blog Birthday Giveaway: We Have Winners!

Thanks to everyone who celebrated my blogging birthday by sharing Advent/Christmas songs and/or signing up for my email list. Each entry was given a number and I asked random.org to choose two... The winners are Laura Hudson and Kim Justice!

You will receive Christmas treats (OK, New Year's treats by the time they arrive) and a perfect new Moleskine notebook for all your thoughts and dreams for 2014 and beyond.

Email me both with your addresses, ladies. Also let me know any dietary restrictions on the treats, OR if you want to forego those altogether, I have a small Christmas craft I can substitute instead. 'Tis the season...

And thank you all, again and always, for your companionship on this journey.

It's a Double-Digit Birthday... And I'm Giving Away Free Stuff

For me? Why thank you Superman! I started blogging ten years ago this weekend.

I created the blog (now defunct) on a lark, mainly to write stuff for extended family, who were also blogging and sharing ideas and stories with one another that way. I had no idea other people would be interested in reading it. I'll never forget the feeling when I got my first comment from a total stranger.

It's hard to express the impact that blogging has had on my life and vocation. I remember discovering other clergywomen who blogged---what a joy and a revelation! We became a tribe that thrives to this day. I miss the days when we would all comment on each other's blogs and reference one another's posts in our own. On the upside, many of those initial connections have become life-long friendships.

And it's not an exaggeration to say that I became a writer through the experience of blogging. Blogging gave me a pseudonymous place to find a voice and to discover what I love writing about most: creativity, ideas, beauty, and the life of the Spirit (a former blog tagline). It's still one of the main pieces of advice I give to people who want to write: Start a blog. Don't just write about what you did that day---strive for something deeper. But don't be afraid to experiment either. Your audience will find you, even if that audience turns out to be small and mostly related to you. By doing the work, you will learn what your next steps as a writer are.

In honor of my 10th anniversary, I'm giving some celebratory gifts: two lucky folks will receive homemade Christmas sweets and a Moleskine journal, for general note-taking or to inspire you in your own writing. If you don't have a copy of Sabbath in the Suburbs, I'll throw in one of those too.

There are two ways to enter. Pick one (or both---multiple entries are welcome!)

1. My very first post was a silly and nerdy taxonomy of Christmas music. What can I say, it was a few days before Christmas and I was on jolliness overload. So comment here or on Facebook with a Christmas song that encapsulates your life right now. (If you can't think of one, general comments count.)

2. And/or, if you haven't already signed up for my email newsletter (inspiration sent monthly-ish) do so here and you'll be automatically entered.

Deadline is Thursday at midnight EST.

And thank you, always, for reading, and for your comments and your companionship on this journey.


photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

We Have a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Sabbath birthday giveaway! I assigned each of you a number and had random.org do its thing, and... I'm happy to announce that Jennifer Garrison Brownell and Megan DeMoss are our winners!

Please be in touch with me through my contact form or Facebook so we can arrange delivery of the books and other goodies.

And a reminder to the rest of you that the Sabbath Supplementals videos and discussion guides are always available electronically here.