Morning writing: the criminal prosecutor keeps his creativity
Jeffrey Wald sets his alarm clock for 4 a.m. and makes Cuban coffee so he can write before his kids get up. It’s a habit that allows him to exercise his creativity, and he does it the old-fashioned way: with paper and a pen. “I am a Catholic,” said Wald, 35, a criminal prosecutor and father of five who belongs to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in St. Paul. “There is something sacramental about holding a pen and seeing what you create. “
Q) You always wanted to write, and 10 years ago you finally started. What was the impetus?
A) I had just graduated from law school and was much more engrossed in my career and success than I expected. I’d always been proud not to care about that, and there I was, landing that coveted job with a judge and swimming in that tide of American success. I didn’t want to be that guy. It was about remembering who I am, what matters to me and what makes me feel alive. It was about finding the first things that inspire me and enrich my life of prayer and imagination and my capacity to love.
Q) How does fiction enrich your prayer life?
A) The heart of prayer is the imaginative life. It is being able to read the scriptures and bring them to life. A few years ago I went through the Ignatian Imagination Prayer. You read these rich passages of Scripture and place yourself there. Prayer is a life where you meet the invisible God.
Q) And how does this increase your ability to love?
A) The ability to love comes from being able to see others with empathy. The curse of human nature is that we are stuck inside of ourselves. It’s hard to empathize. But literature allows us to go inside another person and see what it is. Hopefully this allows us to do the same off the page, with our neighbors, in all their weaknesses and sins. They are also worthy of love.
Q) You have noted that the Church is in the midst of a renaissance in Catholic literature.
A) There has been a real renewal, both at the individual and institutional level. Great Catholic writers like Kirstin Valdez Quade, Randy Boyagoda, Phil Klay, and Christopher Beha write for big presses and get commented in big magazines, and they’re all young. There is no shortage of good things.
Q) What impact can great Catholic literature have?
A) Catholics have always recognized the importance of art – not as an end in itself, but as a means of expressing and approaching the mystery of our faith, the mystery of God’s love, our growth towards him in our imperfect ways. Catholic literature is important because it can be a spiritual work of mercy. And that’s at the heart of what it means to be human. We are storytellers.
Q) What about the stories?
A) At the root of it all: there is a mystery in our existence. As a Catholic father, I try to impart the truth, to teach the sacraments, to teach the truths of the faith. But at some point you realize that Sunday school is important, evidence is important, rationality is important, but it just won’t get you there. You realize there’s this huge mystery at the heart of our existence that you can’t approach that way, by philosophical evidence, but you can sort of approach it through stories. They convey something that proof cannot.
Q) There are so many attacks on the imagination. How can we keep it?
A) Turn off the news. Cultivate a habit of wonder, of curiosity, of seeing the world as the building of the Kingdom of God, not as something to be feared. To read a lot. Go outside. Have a garden, get in the mud. Butcher a chicken. Adopt backyard farming. We can be so far removed from creation. We’re imitators of God, and nothing compares to God’s creation, going out and looking at a tree, getting our hands dirty, going for a hike.
Q) Do you dream of one day publishing your writings?
A) There is this reader. But when I’m at my best, I don’t care if anyone will ever read it. There is something to write. This morning, right after my prayer, this story that I’ve been thinking about for 18 months kind of fell into place.
Q) What made it click?
A) Who knows? I like to think of it as grace and a little bit of the Holy Ghost. Maybe it was just a good cup of coffee. I have never taken a creative writing class and am taking my first online class with a group of five other aspiring Catholic writers. It can feed me, if I put a little more intentionality into it.
Q) How does your daily work as a criminal prosecutor inspire your writing?
A) It really stretched my faith. It forced me to ask: What would salvation be like for this particular person? That person might never end up in a Catholic church, and yet the Lord is going to give this child the opportunity for eternal salvation.
Q) Do you ever pluck a person and drop them in a story?
A) No. I think it can become one dimensional. I can stumble upon a simple story, and there’s an element of my will in it, but if I’m at my best, there are things going on that surprise me a bit.
Q) Writing on paper helps you get it out first.
A) I don’t know if it’s because you can type too fast without having to think about it. Or if it’s just too definitive for me. It takes some pressure off, that what I put on paper is not the end product. I can go back and jot down the side, scratch things off, or draw a circle around something that I know will be the end of it.
Q) How does it feel to have this side concert?
A) I would like more time to do it. But I am so lucky that I really love the job I have at the moment. It was a breakthrough for me. I don’t have to live alone in the woods, eating mushrooms, to do this. I can be a normal guy with a normal job, and I don’t have to write eight hours a day. I can write 10 minutes. And if I get an hour, fantastic! It’s rare to make a living from your writing, and I have no illusions that it will happen, and I don’t even know if it would be best for me – my holiness, my life, my faith.
Q) What are you sure about?
A) I know that I am loved. I have always had a deep sense of the knowledge that God has of me, of his plan for me, of his love for me. I know his hand in my life. I know the love of my parents, the love of my wife, the love of my children. So maybe the power of love, how that is the center of human existence. And second, I know I’m way too serious. I know we need more laughs. Love and laughter – there is something about these two things that are so vital to our faith and what it means to be human.
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