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Postmarked: Dear Shawn (9)


These are just a few of my musings about faith, formation, culture, and life.


Postmarked: Dear Shawn (9)

Jen Michel


Dear Shawn,

I am so glad the fair has ended and you’ve returned to your “quiet, simple writing life.” I am laughing a bit to hear you describe your life, apart from the long days and late nights at the Frederick Fair, as “quiet” and “simple.” You’re parenting six children, writing fulltime, and filling in the financial gaps with other paid work. That hardly sounds “quiet” and “simple!” 

I’m feeling my own longing to return to quieter, simpler rhythms of life. Truthfully, I’m going a bit crazy right now. (It doesn’t help that my mother has lost one of her hearing aids and is relying on me to loudly help her, by phone, recover her hacked Facebook account.)  

We haven’t had anything like the Frederick Fair to contend with, but our September has been unusually bloated with busyness. Ryan’s traveled several times this month for work. We’ve had a week-long house guest, hosted a large baby shower, and continued managing our house renovation while preparing to move back in. We’ve attended school orientation nights, driven to soccer, handled the mounds of typical household paperwork, and shown up dutifully for the volunteer opportunities that we’ve been previously committed to. Yesterday, I left my house at 8:15am and returned at 11:15pm, exhausted from a daylong speaking event, regretting the three-day event I have next week. Truthfully, keeping this frenetic pace leaves me irritable and hard to live with, not least because the house suffers from entropy. This morning, I was barking orders about picking up clothes and straightening shoes and wiping the pancake syrup off the table. Andrew, one of the twins, cautiously offered to tell me a little bit about a new activity at school, and I could tell he was hoping that some of my iciness would melt.  

I will sound like I’m complaining, but this is meant as context for your question about what I’m working on now. I should be working on my book that’s due March 1, which is a 40-day reading experience through two books of the Bible, one old, one new. It’s meant for a wide audience of both the “convinced” and the “curious,” and it’s exactly the kind of project I love. It’s requiring me both to study deeply and to develop my writing in new ways. I would tell you how much (or little) I have written, but I’d be afraid that my editor or agent would find out. 

I don’t seem to be able to enjoy the “quiet” and “simple” days I relied up when I started writing my first book back in 2013. It seems crazy now to remember that I only had four months between signing the contract for that book and owing a first draft. But everything seemed so much less complicated then, at least with regards to my writing life. I wasn’t doing ancillary writing projects like judging books awards, writing endorsements, and fielding email related to those projects. I wasn’t speaking to promote books and having to manage all of the logistical details as well as the content preparation for those events. Instead, I was dropping my kids off at school and on really good days, tucking myself into a booth at Panera, counting on refilling my mug of coffee and being absolutely undisturbed.

Where have those days gone?

In some ways, having authored three books, I’m more a writer than I was then. But the irony is that I feel like I’m not able to write like I used to, at least not write with space for boundless creativity to romp and play. Today, I may be publishing lots of words, but sometimes they can feel like the dubious effort of trying to wring more water from a desiccated sponge. What I regret is the why that I’m losing hold of, this joy of building the castles (as you wrote in your last letter) even if the tide carries them away. 

When I first set out to write, I felt like I was committing myself the simple practice of paying attention.To write was to practice seeing—and seeing seemed so necessary to loving. I didn’t have grand aspirations to move my readers, to teach them, even to make them remember me. No, I just wanted wider eyes and razor sharp words to get the images down. The writing was as much for me as anyone else. But now, the only people I seem to be writing for is others. Is that a necessity, a maturity—or a loss? 

I’ve been recently thinking of an essay on aging that I want to write. It’s just the kind of paying attention I long to do, but I’m worried that there’s going to be no time to write it. For now, at least, I’ve got “aging essay” scribbled down in a new page of my working journal where I’ve made three columns at the top: NO/YES/WISH I COULD. It’s there in the third column, glaring at me. But at least it’s there, unforgotten, reminding me that as soon as I’m ready to get serious about it, I can make the space for moving it just over one column. (Maybe after March 1?) 

At the event yesterday, I was speaking alongside Tish Harrison Warren, whose wonderful book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, was a source of rich conversation throughout the day. At one of the panel discussions, someone had stood up to ask what she meant by the term “vocational holiness” in one of her chapters. I’d read her book but forgotten this phrase. It rolled around in my head for the rest of the day, making me wonder if some of my own vocational holiness wasn’t just about meeting deadlines but about creating time for the “wish I could” assignments—the castles I’d like to build. Something about this seems incredibly necessary to nurturing the joy of my writing vocation.

And isn’t holiness about joy? I think so.

I fear I’ve rambled long in this letter and sounded a little whiny. Forgive me! I promise to send you something of my father’s writing when I find it again. In all the moving we’ve done in the past two years, it’s been banished to storage as we’ve made room for more needful things. I’d love to know what you make of the phrase, “vocational holiness” (if it doesn’t sound too dour to consider). And what sustains your joy in this work?




What began as a Twitter conversation between two writers on creative work and family life has become an exchange of letters. Here is a list of our prior letters for Postmarked:

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (1)

Postmarked: Dear Jen (2)

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (3)

Postmarked: Dear Jen (4)

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (5)

Postmarked: Dear Jen (6)

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (7)

Postmarked: Dear Jen (8)