Balancing Effort & Ease in Writing.

Effort & Ease

One of the more well-known Yoga Sutras states: “sthira sukham asanam.”

Translated it means: the posture is steady and comfortable. Sthira means steady, firm, resolute; sukham means comfortable, easy, gentle. Applying this to our asana practice, we try to strike that balance of exerting enough effort to be steady and strong in the pose, and enough ease to remain comfortable.

We balance our more active, strong yang practice with a softer, more restorative yin practice.

I’ve been noticing that when a teacher gives a cue, I go there 110 percent. Why? I don’t know. I like being a “good” student, so if she says do something I am going to do it. Lately, I’ve been easing up. I stop just when I feel the muscles engage, pausing, checking in to see if I actually need to go deeper for my body, or if my ego just wants to prove how awesome I am at yoga.

I enjoy exploring that balance between effort and ease in each pose, in my practice and in my life off the mat.

My writing practice is rich with the opportunity to practice “sthira  and sukham.” If I push too hard, trying to force a character to do what I think is needed for the plot, I usually end up writing myself into a corner, or not writing anything at all. When I step back and allow the character to go where she needs to, the writing begins to flow again.

Alternately, if I am too soft in my writing practice, only showing up for stream-of-consciousness (brain drain) morning pages, the work suffers. I need to put the effort in to writing my characters, the setting, and writing my way into each scene so that the story emerges.

Here are eight ways I strive to balance effort and ease in my writing practice:

(Read the full article here.)

Celebrating the White Space of Motherhood.

Celebrating Motherhood

Three months into our empty nest and I am feeling the emptiness.

I’m surprised that I never noticed how similar those two words sound.

Empty nest.


Our house feels empty.

My days feel emptier.

The girls came home from college last weekend with a bunch of friends. I fell gratefully into my mom role—preparing a delicious homemade dinner for them including an apple crisp; making a big breakfast in the morning with a fresh fruit salad; taking them shopping for clothes, shoes and food.

(Read the rest of the piece here.)

What I loved about writing this is that I wasn’t even aware of what I was thinking or feeling until I wrote my way into it.

A Love Letter to Writing.


I had no idea there was such a thing as a National Day on Writing. I don’t see cards commemorating it. Cards like, “You wrote today! Woo-hoo!”

Basically, I’ve learned to be by own cheerleader. I try to focus on how good I feel while writing, even when it is painfully hard rather than view counts or comments or publication. (Although I greatly appreciate all three!) They just can’t be the things that drive my writing.

So, what does drive it? What is the answer to the age old question: why do I write?

I’ve asked myself this many time saver the years. Here’s the answer today.

Dear writing,

Thank you. You’ve been there for me when I haven’t been able to be there for you. You are patient when I am not patient with myself. You show me compassion when I am unable to show it to myself. You show me truths that I would rather hide from. 

You allow me to vent and give voice to thoughts and feelings I would rather stay silent on. Thoughts and feelings I wasn’t even aware existed.

You allow me to pull energy out of me through words, burning them, releasing the hold they had on me, releasing what no longer serves me, creating space for the new.

You connect me to myself, my soul, my past and future and this particular moment. Each word etches this precise moment, of who I am in this moment.

You connect me to the world around me. The winds that whispers against me as I write these words. The lake reflecting the brilliant fire of autumn all around me. 

You connect me to other minds. Other hearts. Others souls. You are that thread stitching us all together.

You give me space to discover what I think and what I don’t think.

What I know and what I don’t know.

What I believe and don’t believe.

What I trust and don’t trust.

What I value, what I don’t value.

What I can imagine and what I can never imagine.

You show the light and the dark in myself, in others, in the world and help me make sense of it all.

You’ve become an essential part of who I am and I can’t imagine life without you.

Leaving Love Notes in the Margins.

Wild Mind

I used to think that books were too sacred to write in.

I used to think that I was respecting the book and the writer by keeping the pages pristine.

Now I know otherwise.

Now I know that the notes I leave in margins of books are love notes to past self, present self and future self.

Now I know that the notes I leave are loves notes to the writer across time and space.

These notes that I scrawl in the margins, the words, phrases even entire paragraphs that I underline are a conversation. A conversation with myself and with the writer.

Once, at a week-long  workshop I attended with Natalie Goldberg, I handed her my copy of “Wild Mind” to sign. Pages were dog-eared, the cover ripped, notes written throughout, sentences underlined. She held it in her hands, turning it over, carefully examining the mess her beautiful book had become in my hands. Then she looked at me and said,

“Wow! You really devoured this!”

And I had. I had devoured it—consuming every morsel that resonated with me, leaving notes and underlining passages as if dropping breadcrumbs to where I had been, to who I had been.

I still think books are sacred which is exactly why I write in them. It is a sacred conversation between me and the writer. A sacred conversation between me and my Self.

Books Read in July

July books

“The Borrower” a novel by Rebecca Makkai

I might be the villain of this story. Even now it’s hard to tell.

That dilemma, right in that first sentence, sets the theme and tone of this delightful and thought-provoking novel.

Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian in a small Missouri town believes in the power of books, in the power they have to save us. She struggle with the idea if she herself can actually save anybody, but she tries. She tries to save Ian, assuming that he needs saving based on what she’s seen of the 10-year-old who visits the library regularly, ready to devour any book Lucy put in his hands, even ones that he must sneak past his evangelical mother.

When Ian shows up at the library asking Lucy to take him away, she believes this is her chance to make a difference. To save him. That idealism falters regularly throughout their cross country road trip. As she learns more about the boy, as secrets abut her Russian father are revealed, Lucy questions her motives at each new turn. Who exactly is she trying to save–Ian or herself? And is either one even possible?

A delightful read for anyone but especially those of us who know that books can indeed change, if not save us.

A Sentence I Love:

He thought he was in trouble. Or maybe he thought the hand of God was about to reach down and smite me, and he wanted to look like we’d never met.

The Journal Keeper, A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux

In 1972, after our third and last child was born, we moved from a small frame house in Washington, D.C., into a gigantic frame house farther toward the edge of town.

I’ve picked this book off my shelves several times and this time it really resonated with me. I read all the way through, noticing that it’s been underlined. And they are all sentences that I would’ve underlined myself. Apparently I have read it all the way through before and was meat to do so again.

Finding it while I was healing from a back sprain for almost a month felt right. Theroux details all aspects of her over the course of six years. No detail is too small or mundane. she hits on loneliness, old age, family, if, death, relationships, illness, children, dating, writing, teaching. She invites us into her whole life.

Her careful mining of hr life and her days and her keen observation made me feel the same way about my own days, especially as I was leading much of my days from bed. She helped me see my life from a new perspective—slowed down and close up.

Sentences I Love:

This morning I awoke with a prayer: “Help me to have the courage to finish what I have begun and to begin what I want to finish.”

Looking at a friend who has had a face lift is like reading a book with half the pages ripped out.

On reading the first few pages of “To Kill A Mockingbird”: Her instinct for knowing what she can leave out may not be teachable, but the beginning of her book is a place to start.

“Summerlong” a novel by Dean Bakopoulos

In the hay gold dusk of late spring, Don Lowry takes his usual walk through town and out to the fields beyond it.

It’s a brutally hot summer in a small midwestern town. Don and Claire Lowry find themselves drifting—or perhaps being pulled—from the safety of their marriage. As their marriage is tested in ways they never fathomed they are each forced to confront the reality of their relationship, their family and their life together and apart.

I heard an interview with him on NPR and immediately ordered the book. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized by the characters and their stories. I felt like I was trapped in that heatwave with them, a little dazed and unable to look away.

Sultriness oozes off the pages. Perfect summer read: smart, funny, thoughtful and sexy all served in some damn fine writing. What more could you ask for?

A Sentence I Love:

I confess: I was so caught up in reading that I didn’t take time to underline my faves. But this book is filled with great sentences. Here are a couple I found just from briefly scanning some pages:

Among the things mothers don’t do: they don’t leave the house first in the morning, without explanation. Fathers can do this.

Whatever strangeness he is about to confess will only trigger something inside her and she isn’t sure what—would she confess?

“Bark” stories by Lorrie Moore

Ira had been divorced six months and still couldn’t get his wedding ring off.

Lorrie Moore is a master of the short story. This most recent collection shows a writer at the top of her game. She dissects the anatomy of being human in eight dark, funny, touching stories. In “Debarking” the ominousness of divorce is set against the ominousness of 9-11. In “The Juniper Tree” teacher is visited by the ghost of her deceased friend who makes an odd request of her.

Each story is its own contained world that fits within the confines of the pages but you just know that there is so much more beyond the pages, things we don’t need to know but that inform what we do know.

A Sentence I Love:

The bridesmaids were in pastels: one the light peach of baby aspirin; one the seafood green of low-dose clonazepam; the other the pale daffodil of the next lowest dose of clonazepam.

“Among the Ten Thousand Things” a novel by Julia Pierpont

There were things you learned early, growing up in the city, and there were things you learned late, or not at all.

Things are learned swiftly in this debut novel. We learn that Jack Shanley has been having an affair. How do we learn this? The woman sends over a box of their love letters, correspondence and sexts. But instead of ending up in his wife, Deb’s, hands, the box ends up in the precarious hands of their eleven-yet-old daughter, Kay.

Kay doesn’t completely understand everything she reads, but she understands enough. My heart broke for her. She eventually shows the box to older brother who immediately shows it to their mother who them confronts her husband.

And then we’re off.

Looking at her author photo, it’s hard to imagine that Pierpont is old enough to bring such depth and complexity to a story based around an affair. But this story is anything but typical. Pierpont even bravely throws a flash forward into the middle of the book and it totally works. It adds another layer to the story that is already richly layered.

It’s a wonderful book to just sink into for the summer and I am eagerly awaiting her next one.

A Sentence I Love:

New year. Snowflakes looked like skeletons of something else.

Do you Believe in the Magic of a Blue Moon?

Photo via Pinterest

Photo via Pinterest

Maybe you believe in the the alignment of the planets; maybe you don’t.

Maybe you think astrology is ridiculous at best, dangerous at worst; maybe you don’t.

Maybe you believe in the powerful energy of a full moon, especially a Blue Moon; maybe you don’t.

Me? I choose to believe.

If there’s the possibility of magic in the air I’m gonna choose to believe in that magic.

Tonight’s Blue Moon has been written up all over the internets this week. Check out this one, and here, and here. Read what you want, take what you will.

There are many ways to celebrate the Blue Moon: rituals, bonfires, ocean ceremonies. You can just stand under the moonlight in your own backyard or view it through your window. A ritual that comes from your heart and rings true for you is best. Make it simple or complex.

To me, it’s just about my intention, honoring that intention with an awareness of the vision of the moon and its energy.

This Blue Moon feels like a space to continue my month-long process of digging deep and shedding whatever it is that is weighing me down, holding me back—beliefs, thoughts, habits. Just letting them go in order to open up space for my authentic self to shine.

I wrote in my journal about it this morning. I may write a few more things on pieces of paper and burn them later tonight as I am bathed in the light of this full moon.

The point is, to keep it real. Make it have meaning for you.

At the very least, you get a magnificent view of the moon; at best you allow that energy to sweep through you, carrying away whatever it is that is holding you back.

Either way, it’s win/win.

Meditation as Bicep Curls?

I’ve resisted a regular, sustained meditation practice for years. Even when, at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, and she pretty much guaranteed that meditating would help my writing, I still blew it off.

Even after becoming a yoga teacher, I blew it off.

Sure, I’d show up for a few days, weeks, even months but then I’d miss a day, then another and another.

I think I’ve always had this picture of how meditation should look and the way my wild mind flitted all over the place like a hummingbird on speed did not fit that picture.

In short, I felt like I failed every time I sat down.

Of course, I knew that bringing my mind back to my breath or mantra was the practice. But mostly I knew that in my head. Part of me still felt like I should get past that stage, that it was a hoop I had to jump through.

Being laid up these last few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to meditate. And I have. Daily.

Along the way, I stumbled across this video, which I just love. First, it’s animated and takes some of the heavy seriousness out of meditation. Second, one phrase in particular has stayed with me. That each time we bring our awareness back to the present, it’s like a bicep curl for our mind.

See, the thing that I feared was failing is exactly the thing needed to strengthen my practice, my mind, my awareness.

It’s so liberating.

I no longer fight my thoughts. Each time I notice my attention has strayed, I bring it back to my breath or mantra, knowing that that moment, that moment of starting over is the whole point.

It’s not failure.

It’s the practice.

I Confess: I Binge-Watched “Younger.”


I admit it. I was prepared to hate, or at least be offended by TV Land’s original series, “Younger.”

The premise sounds like something that I, as a feminist, should loathe. Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a recently divorced 40-year-old looking for a job in publishing—a career she had enjoyed before taking time off to raise her daughter who is now in India for her first year of college. After going on  dozen interviews where her age trumped her qualifications or abilities, she took advice from her best friend (played by Debi Mazar) to just say she is 26.

Sure, Foster looks great for 40. Like really great. But 26? The thing you have to buy into in order to enjoy the show is what her friend tells her—that people want to believe what they are told.

So, after a mini-makeover which involved some highlights, make-up and a new wardrobe found at vintage shops, Liza lands a publishing job an assistant to a woman who resents all the 20-something girls who work for and with her. She becomes friends with an actual 26-old junior editor played by Hillary Duff. (Seriously, wasn’t she just playing lizzie Maguire?)

After allowing myself to believe that she could pass for 26, the next thing that hooked me was that they had a Joyce Carol Oates storyline happening.

Joyce Carol Oates!

So, there’s the whole book publishing, writing, author thing going on which I love. But the more I watched, the more I felt that this wasn’t just some fluffy, misogynistic crap. Sure, some of it is fluff, it is a half-hour sit-com. But they address the differences between the generations in a funny yet thoughtful manner long with the reality of aging, especially for women. And it’s given me a different view into the lives of the 20-somethings, which, as the mom of a 20-something, I appreciate.

Since Darren Star of “Sex and the City” fame is behind the creation and production of this show, it focuses on the relationship between women. There is sex and relationship angst, of course, but at its heart (and it does have heart) “Younger” is a show about women and how we can lift each other up or not. And what a loss for all when we don’t.