About Me

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I have discovered that walking a very narrow path leads to broad places of peace, contentment, and provision. I work as a freelance consultant in the areas of cultural heritage, public history and museums, From 2009-2016, I was the executive director of the Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, (now called New France - the OTHER Colonial America, an eighteenth century French colonial historic site and National Historic Landmark.) My PhD research for the University of Leicester (United Kingdom) is in the Department of Museum Studies and looks at the interpretation of diversity at the American Historic House Museum. I also developed and facilitate an inspirational program for Christian grandparents, Gathering Grandparents.

Monday, May 14, 2018

What makes me happy by Lesley Barker c. 2015

Feathers, flowers, flavors, textures
birds, butterflies, cows and other creatures
Even bugs armored and glistening in the grass
when the sun strikes and iridescence replies
These accompanied by thrumming and the drumming
beat of beak against tree supporting song bird melodies
pierced by staccato bark moo shriek
Wind wafted fragrances cedar and sea salts
wrapping wind releasing rainbow skies
This is what makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Writing After a Stroke

I tried to write a few notes but all that happened was scribbling. I tried to talk but my words were as scribbled. I could not move my fingers to the buttons on my cell phone to text without garbling that as well. It was very difficult to move the light switch in the bathroom. I cut myself instead of an orange. Not sure what was happening to me, my friend took me to the emergency room where I told the receptionist I was there to be evaluated for a possible stroke. That got action fast. I was put in a wheelchair, taken quickly around multiple corners, through various doors, to the first of four CT scans which confirmed I was having a brain bleed, a hemorrhagic stroke- the kind that only 35% of whose victims survive and recover. Three days later, I was discharged from the hospital with three blood pressure medicines, two follow-up doctor's appointments and referrals for OT and speech therapy. I pretty much slept for the next month between therapies. A fourth blood pressure medicine was added at a doctor's appointment where what I said was discounted and where no one touched me other than to take my blood pressure, which I already knew, having taken it at home, and where I was charged $420 for a fifteen minute encounter before they applied the discount thanks to my atypical insurance arrangements. Now, eleven weeks into recovery, I am pretty much back to normal.

Except for a few things. I still cannot write legibly for long enough to utilize journaling, my decades-honed and preferred meta-cognitive tool now discarded. I get food stuck between my cheeks and my teeth. My taste buds are unreliable - salty and sweet flavors disappoint. When I am tired, multi-syllable words blur. Sometimes when I walk more than a block or so, my right foot drags so I have befriended a cane. Unless I pay attention, I get confused about mental sequencing. Is this date past or future? If I want to find Psalm 23 and I am at Psalm 100, do I look left or right in the book? And, I get fatigued easily and dramatically, which for someone who has always been able to push past the walls, is unsettling but seemingly not negotiable. There is nearly always some bearable discomfort in my face and head. I may also have lost the momentum of the new year that started with the successful attainment of my PhD as of January 30.

The stroke disrupted everything. I had to find new ways of getting attention since neither speech nor writing worked at first. I had to pay closer attention to details. I had to rely on new supports. I had to navigate uncomfortable losses and learn to deal with new boundaries. I became visible in new, more invasive ways. I was faced with new challenges and the need to find new approaches to time. It is the same with writing, speaking, consulting, working after the stroke.

New ways of getting attention: I'm working on marketing what I have already written - Pastor's Ex-Wife, Faith Wise Faith Ways, Called to Write? Don't Know How?, Grandparents in Genesis, etc. see my books on Amazon - because I am convinced that these are worth reading. They were written carefully and, I think, are important contributions. Each of them reveals my heart and, hopefully calls new places in the readers' hearts to open. Each of them wrestles with some aspect of faith. Unless the audience connects with these works, I will be like so many creators who are undiscovered in their lifetimes. New supports and new discomforts: So, I am blogging with more intentionality, posting on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, raising the flags trying to say "Look at me. Look at me", which is uncomfortable because I have spent much of my life trying to learn humility and wisdom, which do not call attention to themselves.

New challenges: I'm also writing a chapter for a book, Slavery, Literature and Memory, that will be published by the University of Aarhus in Denmark, assuming what I submit passes the peer review process. It deals with three ways to change the narrative about the memory of slavery: performance, preservation and protest. It follows directly from my dissertation and, in many ways, I am unqualified to attempt it. New courage required: The book by the late James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, is pushing me into a new space that requires new courage about faith and that will probably inform what the chapter says.

New approaches to time & sequencing and new boundaries: Three other fiction projects have been on the shelf for the past four years while I did my doctorate. I find myself picking them up in my imagination. Each is at a different stage. Each deals with the problems of understanding authentic faith in dysfunctional, hurtful families. I wonder if it is time to rework them now and in what sequence I should attempt them. Curse of Kaskaskia is a young adult historical novel about 14 year old Auguste Chouteau. I wrote it before I served as the executive director of the Bolduc House Museum so the reworking of it implies scrutinizing it for details about material culture and more. Isabelle is another historical novel about Isabelle Edwards, the wife of Ben Edwards (a son in AG Edwards & Sons). It is based on the letters I have between Isabelle and Ben written before they were actually courting and is set in the last seven days of her life. It is fully researched and moves, in my mind, choreographed like a ballet. Stuck in the Mud is a murder mystery set in Ste. Genevieve at the museum I used to direct. It, too, is begun. The first few chapters are written. I know how it ends.

New momentum needed: Should I mention that I would very much love to land an academic teaching position in the area of public history, museum studies or cultural heritage leadership? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Courage, Faith, Fiction and Martyrdom

So often I think that we isolate our personal experience and commitment to our Christian faith from the historical Judeo-Christian community of faith which has accumulated some 4,000 years of written testimony. The stories of early Christians are not idealistic metaphors of martyrdom from which we are supposed to gain resolve. They are gruesome, traumatic accounts of violence and rage akin to today's honor killings. They are amazing accounts of triumph and joy tinged with love and celebration in the expectation of an eternal future in God's company. We align ourselves with the potential to join the company of those saints and martyrs when we emerge from baptism's plunge into death clothed in the resurrection power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in the redemptive declarations of His blood.

But, then, familiar rhythms of the work-a-day world resound louder again to our ears than His heartbeat and we tend to return to some lesser normal. Lesser, at least if the portraits of His kingdom and glory destined to cover our earth are to be believed. Normal, but not wiser through what can only be gained by stepping into a divine folly.

I was reading Bryan Liftin's book review for Alan Kreider's The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. Liftin references the "counter-imperialist" activism of such men as Tertullian, Cyprian and Lactantius. He calls them courageously patient. He concludes that it takes "courage to wait on God's timing" and contrasts that courage with an "impatient taking of matters into one's own hands". He characterizes the early Christian church as having had that courageous patience but that, once it relinquished that counter-cultural position, in the days of Constantine and Augustine, Christians became impatient and self-reliant. Taking matters into their own hands, the likelihood of martydom also diminished. 

This may be the first time I am satisfied with a definition of patience. Patience waits. Patience requires courage. Patience does not take matters into one's own hands while the judge of the whole earth is deliberating. Patience is positioned to move when God's timing and decrees arrive, and patience is most likely to be counter-imperialist, counter-cultural and ready to both articulate and die for a higher cause which we could name social justice.

What does any of this philosophizing have to do with writing fiction or with how any of us might choose to live our lives?

When the pastor's ex-wife and protagonist of my novel, Terry Soldan, found the courage to leave her abusive husband, she lost everything - her identity, her reputation, her friends, her children, her grandchildren and her sense of normal. It may look as if she had taken matters into her own hands on the surface but, in actuality, she gambled everything, not even knowing for sure if her faith would be found to have been built on sand or rock. The book is about her courageous patience when nothing was guaranteed and everything seemed shifting.

Abuse, whether perpetrated against a people by a Nero or a Hitler or against an individual by an abusive husband or sex offender, injects a pervasive trauma into the victim's status quo that takes a kind of all-or-nothing martyrdom to oppose and escape.

Without the glimmer of something far surpassing the normal, this kind of trauma is a hard shell and an inescapable dungeon. The risk is only taken when it is deemed to be worth courageous waiting. Each example of courageous patience waiting on God adds new voices to Job's original anthem and protest song against the normal - though He slay me yet will I trust Him. This is what happens when authentic faith encounters trauma and has to wrestle with unimaginable risks. This is what my fiction is dedicated to unpack even as such courageous patience persistently serves to disentangle my heart from its various traumas until I make the next risky decision to wait on God's timing rather than to take matters into my own hands...

Friday, April 20, 2018

Who reads and writes fiction anyway?

Yesterday, a Twitter post challenged writers to describe their readers as a step towards finding and engaging with them and to marketing their books. Of course, I understand how to write for a specific audience - when it comes to non-fiction, especially. The audience determines how much background is needed, the type and level of vocabulary, the length of the piece as well as the assumptions and goals. Again, at least for non-fiction, which I have written a lot. But I took this challenge for Pastor's Ex-Wife, which is fiction.

Perhaps the first time I realized that I love fiction was in 1964 when I was in the fourth grade. Roald Dahl's book, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, had just been released. Each afternoon another chapter was read aloud on an FM radio station in New York City, so I hurried home from school to listen. I became fully engaged with the characters. As the spoken words turned to images in my mind, I found myself inside the story. Already an avid reader, this experience solidified for me that fiction is magic, that fiction conjures imagination.

I knew I, too, would someday write fiction...

... And continue to read it...

Kipling and Dostoevsky, Tolkein and Carolyn Keene, C.S. Lewis and Dickens, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Sayers, Dan Brown and Steve Berry, Verne and Austin (although I hate Emma), Alcott and L'Engle, Stevenson and Swift, Chaucer and Hemingway, Sartre and Joel Chandler Harris, Konigsburg and Kingsolver - the list could go on and on from chick lit for pure escape to young adult books to mysteries, thrillers, and serious literature: both contemporary and classic.

As long as the story pulls me into its own Narnian space and time, I will read it, no matter who wrote it. As long as it produces an emotional response in me and, even without me putting forth any effort, I see the mind-movie that makes me unlikely to enjoy most movie versions, it is likely that I will keep reading late into the night and early in the morning until the last page forces me to resume living in the normal. Gratuitous sex, explicit violence that is only titillating and adds nought to the story other than to make the reader a voyeur, not a companion on a kind of voyage, will make me stop reading. Usually books that are psychological thrillers, like Gone Girl (which I read all the way through) terrify me because they push me out of the story into my own that I have often read to escape, do not entice me to even start - not because they are not well written, but because of my own frailty.

So, does any of this reflection assist in creating a picture of my target market of readers for Pastor's Ex-Wife? It is not chick lit but the protagonist, Terry Soldan, is a woman. It is not a cozy Christian read but it is about how wounded people wrestle genuinely with issues of faith. It is not a romance but it is about how friendships fail and also endure and deepen. It is not a psychological thriller but it shows what abuse does to distort emotions, decision making and memories. It is not explicitly about race in America but it constantly navigates that issue. It is not about the #metoo clergy sexual abuse scandal in the American Protestant church but it wouldn't be written except for that trauma. It's a story that touches big ideas and opens hearts that may have been scarred over before the pus has been drained out. The story includes pain and laughter, fear and courage, gourmet meals and gardens, and it is filled with people to love, hate and try to understand.

How does any of this predict who the readers should be? I think I wrote it well - filled with sensory detail and authenticity that can and should be critiqued. I guess I am looking for readers who are readers like me - who taste a book's first few pages and have to continue. There is a good sample on Amazon - please taste it and let me know if, in your opinion, it needs more salt. If you decide to keep reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon when you are finished.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Fiction is Like a Spider's Web"

An acquaintance messaged me after reading a short promo about Pastor's Ex-Wife, asking if it was my story or just one I made up. Then she divulged that she had been married to an abusive church leader - had escaped, is happily remarried but that reading about my book made her tears flow. She said, "One never knows the pain hid under a smile." I wrote Pastor's Ex-Wife because too many women have pain hidden under their smiles and do not think there is anyone who might be safe enough to trust to walk back through the pain with them until it is healed.

Like Virginia Woolf wrote, “Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” So, I will not answer explicitly if the story is mine. Terry Soldan shares aspects of my story, but like all believable characters, she is herself, incarnate on paper but not to be found in any earthly address. However, hers is a powerful voice that shouts #MeToo to any who find the curiosity and the courage to listen. 

Another friend criticized the story for ending unresolved. One thing is resolved. Terry faced her own past and was able to move forward in a way that turned years of abuse into a positive mission - to serve as the anonymous church critic - visiting and reporting on churches so that people could have a sense of whether they might fit in before going for the first time. Yes, her pain leaks into her reviews but her experience allows for an authentic critique of various common experiences across the spectrum of the American Protestant Church.

Will there be a sequel? I've toyed with writing one using letters to the anonymous church critic but I have some other stories I'd like to write first. Pastor's Ex-Wife is written to confront an issue that forces its victims into shame and conflict and to provide hope that there are ways of escape and that all that is asserted to be correct Christian behavior and beliefs is not necessarily so without watering down the love of God, His act to separate our sins as far from us as east is from west and the power of His resurrection. Like Terry Soldan, my life does not always conform to what people think I should do or not do and I have discovered that God does not respect anyone's boxes much less allow Himself to remain confined in one.

I would really like Pastor's Ex-Wife to be made into a movie.  

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Why I Write Fiction or Faith & Cotton Malone

Recently I encountered Steve Berry's books and have read the first three in the Cotton Malone series. I like them. They utilize fiction to explore emotional and current political themes which is what I did in Pastor's Ex-Wife and #whyIwritefiction anyway. I plan to work my way through the series because they are fun. However, I would love to engage with Berry on the topic of faith, which has a consistent role in his books. It seems that, for Berry, faith is a default position that people persist in without any objective, rational evidence or independent verification process. I would love for him to read and respond to my book Faith Wise Faith Ways (available on Amazon). It looks at my experiences of faith and faithlessness over more than forty years walking in active relationship with the personal God who created the universe and who is the best Rewarder. I think most people have a false definition of faith that matches Berry's assumptions. Just an opinion and a challenge.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Hopefully Not Gratuitous Writing Eight Weeks After a Stroke

Eight weeks ago tomorrow I had a hemorrhagic stroke - a brain bleed- from which I am improving daily. At first I could not wield either spoon or toothbrush. My handwriting was illegible. My speech was impaired - not finding words but articulating them and making my mouth work. Now you would be hard-pressed to notice that my face is a bit different with the right side of my mouth fairly in-congruent to my left when smiling or that I almost always drool slightly on the right. For an author/speaker like I am, this relatively minor stroke hit me in major ways. It has taken all these weeks to gain enough stamina to do a half day of very entry level clerical work before I must sleep again. My mind functions as well as always but it gets tired fast and it takes forever to read material that requires concentration because I keep having to take breaks. Driving is still too hard - not manipulating the car, I can do that! - maintaining the global awareness and concentration. It physically hurts my head. I can walk about half a mile before I am too tired to continue and before it is obvious that my right foot drags. I take a cane when I go for a walk. I'm not sure how long it will take for me to function at what used to be normal, or if I ever will, actually. But there are so many things to be grateful for - the stroke happened where I could be cared for instead of some random rest area between northern Vermont and southeastern Missouri - or France or England, for that matter. It was a minor stroke with comparatively few lingering impairments. I received final approval for my PhD two weeks prior to the stroke. I was invited to contribute a chapter to a peer reviewed academic book just two weeks ago - long enough into the recovery process to know I can fulfill the assignment. Thankfully, I have an assortment of books already written and formatted for sale on Amazon, both for kindle and in print. This gives the potential for income during the interim where I am challenged to have the energy to work and to look for a new position, hopefully in Lexington, Kentucky, thanks to my finished doctorate. So, there is a huge silver lining and the opportunity to focus on marketing these books -starting with the one I hope someday to see as a feature film, my novel about the #metoo incidence of sexual (and other) abuse in the context of the Protestant American church. So, once again I am paying close attention to this blog, to my www.teamlesley.com website, to Facebook, Twitter @LesleyBarker and LinkedIn. Hopefully, as I take time to reflect on this recovery process as it impacts my work and writing, you will not find it gratuitous or self-serving but receive it in the vein it is offered, reflection, analysis, musing, wondering and wandering....

By Lesley Barker