On today’s blog, Karol Jackowski, who teaches our MFA courses “Women’s Spiritual Writing through the Ages” and “Nature Writing,” talks with interviewer Sandy Chmiel about writing, spirituality, and the development of a writing voice informed by the deepest part of the self. These words are soul nourishment themselves; give yourself time to savor them.
Do you prefer to be called Sister Karol or Karol?
Karol. “Sister” designates my marital status, like Mrs., Mr., and Ms. Call me Karol and see me as your sister.
How have your spiritual beliefs informed your writing?
I found the spiritual exercises that formed me as a sister—meditation, contemplation, ritual, leisure, “lectio divina” (spiritual reading)—are the same soulful exercises that form us as writers. In meditation we learn to listen to the “angel in our soul,” our writing voice. In contemplation we listen to the voice in nature and the voice in experience, learning to see more clearly. Ritual becomes a powerful way to maintain a connection with the unseen and unspoken, to open the door for the writing voice to speak. Leisure as a spiritual exercise points to the importance of play in the development of a spiritual life and a writing life. According to Gertrude Stein, “It takes a heap of doing nothing to write a good book." And especially for writers, all reading is “lectio divina,” spiritual reading—soul food, exercising the mind and feeding the soul simultaneously. Reading and writing become soulmates. The more we read, the clearer our writing voice becomes. While I was not aware of it at the time, I can see clearly now how the more of a nun I became, the more of a writer I became.
You have taught “Women’s Spiritual Writing through the Ages” and are now teaching “Nature Writing and Narrative Poetry.” What similarities do you find in these two topics?
In the first course, “Women’s Spiritual Writing through the Ages,” the focus is on the spiritual exercises of meditation, spiritual reading—reading reflectively and meditatively—and ritual. Listening to the writing voices of women through the ages serves the purpose of clarifying our voice, hearing more clearly, writing more artfully. The course in “Nature Writing” focuses on the spiritual exercises of contemplation and leisure, on listening to the voice of nature and seeing in nature the story of our life. The first course focuses on how to listen as a writer. The second course focuses on how to see as a writer. Both focus on exercising the writing voice in soulful ways.
How does your spiritual practice carry over into your interactions with your students?
In addition to being their teacher, I am their sister. Because readings and assignments in these courses engage students in profoundly personal ways, responses to one another become ‘spiritual direction” for all of us. A strong sense of community develops as students’ comments serve to support, strengthen, and enjoy thoroughly each other’s work. In that way, students also teach the class. The soulful subject matter lends itself to creating a working environment online where I find enormous respect for one another, and the kind of “community” feeling I experience in the sisterhood. Concerns are shared, insights revealed, support offered always…sisterhood at its best. Not only am I their teacher, I am also their sister.
What do you most love about the writing process?
For me, the writing process is nothing short of divine intervention. The inner voice is a holy spirit and words become our “magic wand,” the medium for our soul’s message. The writing life keeps my spiritual life alive and well—that’s what I love most about it. I write at the beginning and end of every day, oftentimes more. I live a solitary life in which my writing voice thrives. The spiritual life and the writing life are my soul sisters, giving me a life I love most. There is nothing I love more than days and nights of writing, days and nights of divine intervention.
What else would you like to share with us?
How grateful I am for the opportunity to work with gifted writers whom I watch grow by leaps and bounds. Seeing the writing voice become clearer and stronger week after week is pure joy for a teacher. Thank you for the pleasure of their company.