Coming Home to Writing Practice.

writing practice

I entered this writing path through the writing practice Natalie Goldberg teaches. Practicing writing the same way an athlete practices her sport, the same way a pianist practices scales. Showing up to the page, grabbing a prompt and just writing for ten minutes without stopping, without crossing anything out.

The end product didn’t matter. The process of showing up and writing and connecting with the wilderness of my own heart and mind is what mattered.

Then I decided I needed to be more disciplined. I needed to produce more. More stories, blog posts, novels. And I let writing practice slip away, not counting it as “real” writing.

This summer I joined an on-line writing class hosted by the luminous Bryonie Wise called “Human is What We Are.” Honestly, I was hesitant. I have committed time and money to so many on-line classes over the years and I rarely finish them. My enthusiasm wanes then my connection to the group fades and I’m off on my own again.

This time has been different. First, I am intimately familiar with writing practice. Slipping back into it has been soothing and inspiring. It has been reconnecting with an old friend who really knows me, who sees all of me.

Second, Bryonie makes is all so accessible: writing, creativity, life. She gives us permission to meet ourselves where we are. She assures us that there is no wrong way to do this. That there is no such thing as being behind. We are where we are.

Third, summer has been the perfect time for this kind of loose but supportive structure. Ten minutes a day for ten days then we have a break to let everything germinate, let it settle and find its way into our bones.

My own notebook is more than half-filled. I have three separate pages filled with prompts that will draw me back to the page long after our third and final session ends. Coming back to writing practice has illuminated my creative process, allowing me to find inspiration everywhere.

It has reminded me of why I write at all: to come back home to myself which allows me to connect more deeply with the world around me.

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Books Read in May + June.

May + June Books

“This Messy Magnificent Life” by Geneen Roth

From the beginning, I was always more anxious than the average bear.

Once again, Roth dives deep into the brilliant muck of her own life and struggles to offer us a blueprint on how to do the same for ourselves. 

Yes, she talks explores women and body image but it goes so much deeper than that. She shares stories from her own life and those fo her students, guiding us out of the gotta-get-more mentality and into the peace of being enough in our messy, magnificent lives.

A sentence I underlined (and starred):

I’ve tried versions of not fixing myself before, but always with the secret hope that not fixing myself would fix me.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nell andHenry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it’s August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.

That’s a hell of a first sentence! So much packed into it and it drops us right into the heart of who this couple tried to be and who they actually are now.

Each story seems to explore that edge between the image projected versus what is really going on inside whether it’s a woman fanatazising the downfall of an old friend who had become a lifestyle guru to a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a nemesis from high school.

Sittendfeld weaves in the poetics of the times but as background, also like white noise that adds texture to the stories, to the characters who will stay with you long after you put the book down.

A sentence I love:

Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood; it gave me stamina with Bonnie and willpower with Therese.

“The Rules of Inheritance” a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith

My father’s voice is tinny through the phone line. I am in the booth at the bottom of the stairs in Howland dorm. It is my freshman year of college.

A student loaned me her copy before class one day. I started reading it as the rest of my students gathered and before class even started I already had tears in my eyes. 

This memoir is one of the most honest explorations of grief that I have ever read.

At fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. By the time she is in her twenties, both of them have died.

The book is structured within the framework of the five stages of grief. She also moves through time in a very fluid way that I imagine mimics grief itself.

She made the deliberate decision not to use quotation marks throughout and it works. It is a constant reminder that these are memories. The lack of punctuated conversations reminds us over and over that they are gone.

Her sentences are stunning.

The story is powerful.

It wasn’t my book but if it was, I probably would’ve underlined something on every single page.

Some sentences I loved: 

“We kiss for the first time, there in the kitchen, and Ill always remember it for many reasons. One of them is because, for the first time in a long time nothing about the kiss serves to fill a void.”

“We agreed that I would move my things out this week. We parted ways at the door and there was a wildness between us, something frightening and alive, fluttering like a bird.”

“She turns her head to me now and runs a hand down my cheek. I’ve adored being your mother, Claire. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I did right with my life.

She is crying now. I can tell by the way her voice has gone tighter. I still can’t bring myself to look at her.

We’ll get through. Okay, sweetie? I promise.

I finally look up at her and nod the tiniest nod. She turns on her side, pulling me into her like a comma, and we lie like that for a long time.”

“If We Had Known” a novel by Elise Juska

It was an unseasonably hot late summer day in Maine when Maggie’s daughter read about the shooting.

A mass shooting at a local mall rocks a small college town. It reads like a common national headline. Juska takes us behind the headlines, into the stories of the people left behind. Those that survived, those that knew the shooter, those that wonder if they could’ve—or should’ve—done something to prevent the tragedy. 

Maggie is a professor and divorced mom getting ready to send her only child off to college when the shooting happens. Through the internet and social media speculations run rampant , linking the shooter to an essay he wrote for Maggie in a class she had him in years earlier. Did she miss something in his writing, something dark that hinted at the crime he would later commit?

The novel explores these questions as well as the territory of this mother-daughter relationship in such gripping prose that it was hard to put down and hard to forget once I finally did put it down.

A sentence I love:

Her head hurt on contact, a small flowering of pain in her temple.

“Her” a memoir by Christa Parravani

I used be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.

Those first two sentences are at the heart of this exquisite memoir. After an act of brutality sends her twin down a dark path of depression and drugs, leading to her early death, Christa is left behind to try and remember who she is without her twin. To try and remember how she even is able to exist without her counterpart to balance out her existence in the world.

It is a haunting story that moves beyond  loss and grief, diving deep into the complicated heart of being an identical twin and how they can both lose and find themselves in each other. 

A passage I love:

All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.

“Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge

Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.

I finished this beautiful book in less than twelve hours. I started it before I went to bed then finished it upon waking. It opened me up to the possibility of cultivating silence within my life, not letting all the constant noise of the world in. Each page has plenty of white space for my eyes to rest and photos throughout that float in the center of the page, providing yet another resting space for my mind.

Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot—the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. Using those experiences he then travels inward to explore the realm of silence in our lives. The book is filled with grace and wisdom and after closing the final page I found myself seeking out more moments of silence, becoming more aware of the noise I invite in on a daily basis.

A sentence I love:

Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

“Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” a memoir by Natalie Goldberg

I travel all the way to Kitada, Japan, to Taizoin Temple, near the Sea of Japan, to find the ashes of my Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

Those of you who have been following my blog will no doubt know of my special connection to Natalie Goldberg. I’ve often written about how her book, “Writing Down the Bones” first set me on this writing path. How the first time I gave myself persuasion to be a writer was when I attended her week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico.

I have read every single book she has written at least once, often more than once. When I saw that she had a new memoir out I immediate checked my local bookstore, saw that they had it in stock, got in my car and bought it. Once again, I finished it in less than twelve hours. 

Since I have read all of her books, i noticed that this particular one seemed to emerge from a deeper, richer place. It comes from her years of writing practice, of Zen practice, of painting practice and this time, from her practice of being with her illness. Being in a body that has cancer. Being within a medical system that she fights against. Being in a relationship where they are both fighting cancer.

It’s a memoir that explores the practice of living. Of being present to all of it not just the shiny pieces we share on social media. It reminded me of the beauty and necessity of writing practice. The practice of relating to my world, to my self, my body, my mind word by word, moment by moment.

After reading the final sentence, I lay the book on my heart, resting my hand on the cover and I could feel my heartbeat reverberate up through the pages, through the words, tears filled my eyes and I silently thanked Natalie over and over, for setting me on this writing path, for giving me the tools to connect with my wild mind, heart + life, for always showing us the way through her own writing straight into the white hot messy center of our living and dying.

A sentence I love:

But I came in direct contact with the groundless disaster—I could not hold on to my old life; I could not manage or form a new life. 

 

An Experiment in Blogging Everyday.

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If you’ve followed this blog at all the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been trying something different lately:

Blogging. Every. Day.

I got the idea from Austin Kleon who got the idea from Seth Godin.

I enjoy the structure of needing to write and post something every day.

I found that I was hoarding my blog ideas, saving them for a “better” time. But, as Annie Dillard says:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.”

This isn’t an attempt to build my platform or increase my blog presence/readership. This is an experiment for me, to explore new ideas, to write daily and send those words out into the world.

I’m not worried about timing my posts to get the most traffic or writing headlines that lure readers in. It’s truly just about writing something every day.

As Seth Godin says,

“Are you able, every day, to say one thing that’s new that you can stand behind?”

As I write something each day, I’ve become a tuning fork to the world around me, always seeking something new to explore here. Something I can articulate and stand behind.

The more I create, the more ideas I have.

The more ideas I have, the more I write.

The more I write, the more I learn to spend it all, every time.

The more I learn to spend it all, the more I learn to trust my creative process.

The more I trust the process, the more I create.

 

A Book I Love. ~ #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Writing and Being

“Writing and Being- Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language” by G. Lynn Nelson

I discovered this little gem at my favorite bookstore, Changing Hands, in Tempe, Arizona. And it was at the original location on Mill Ave. If I remember correctly, Nelson gave a writing workshop there that I took.

I was just embarking on this writing path and hungry for any guides along the way whether they were in the form of novels that I loved, books on writing that got me to actually write or teachers that opened their minds and hearts to their students. Nelson did just that in person and in his book.

As I glance through the book now, a couple of decades later, I find myself still drawn to his voice, to his compassionate guidance along the writing path. I see check marks along the exercises that I did, his soft but steady presence encouraging me to explore, shed, remember, collect small joys.

I haven’t picked this book up in years, yet it has survived many, many bookshelf purges. There’s a reason. I will be diving back into this one, exploring it now from a new vantage point, no longer a beginner desperate for guidance but a writer confident in her devotion to the craft and ready to open her beginner’s mind to deeply explore the interior life and speak from her heart.

Sadly, I just learned that Nelson died in 2014. He shined a light out into the world and encouraged us all to sit with our darkness so that we could share our light as well. 

The Artist’s Way ~ Week 11

Week 11 ~ Recovering your Sense of Autonomy

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  1. I did my Morning Pages every morning. Or, at least, every day. And I have recommended them to many people over the years if they feel stuck in their lives or stuck on a particular issue. Morning Pages allow things to flow again, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. While much of the writing for me is whiny petty stuff (better out than in) there are times I connect with that inner wisdom, and I am grateful for what it has to say and grateful that it is always there if I just make space for it. And Morning Pages create that space.
  2. I painted this week for my Artist’s Date. I had way too many expectations around it and it is not finished yet. All I wanted was to get lost in the process of painting. Of feeling the texture of the paint gliding onto the paper. The joy of exploring colors, mixing them to create my own new colors. But I got caught up in my head. What am I painting? What should I paint? It needs to look like something so I can take a picture and share it on Instagram or here on my blog. I’ll try it again maybe with the express intention of NOT sharing it at all.
  3. I can’t recall any instances of synchronicity this week though I am sure they happened. I really need keep a little synchronicity notebook to capture them and invite them more freely into my life. I did find recalling instances of personal synchronicity in my life interesting: 1) A book  finds me at the perfect time that I need to read it even if it’s been lounging on my shelves for years 2) Hearing or reading something  that fits like a missing puzzle piece into my current WIP. 3) Thinking about somebody then having them call or text 4) At the studio we often echo each other’s themes or poses without ever talking about it 5) Not getting into Antonya Nelson’s writing class years ago and instead took a class with a local writer and teacher, Maureen Dunphy who has ended up having such a huge, positive impact on my writing life: learned so much for her class, became part of a writing group with her, she is my ideal reader and sees things in my writing that I wasn’t even aware of, connected me with my current writing group.
  4. I ended up having a dialogue one day in my Morning pages between me and my writing. I was struggling with giving, what I consider, the scraps of my energy and attention to my writing.

Writing: Why do I get the scraps of your attention, energy and focus?

Me: I know. I’m sorry. But honestly, yoga makes me money, you don’t.

W: Not yet. And not ever if I get the bare minimum and besides, is money the main criteria on how you spend your energy?

Me: No, I guess not. I guess I’m embarrassed. And a little ashamed at how little effort I put into you. Even though I show up daily, the effort feels shallow. The work feels shallow.

W: I know it feels that way to you, but to me, every word, every moment of energy you direct in my direction adds up. These layers add up Layers of years, pages, words, layers of your devotion, your perseverance—it all adds up to deep work.

Me: Really? I didn’t think of it that way.

W: I know. You often see yourself in the weakest, harshest light possible.

Me: I know I do…

W: I just wish…

Me: What?

W: I just wish you had more faith in me. In us.

Me: Faith? Not a better work ethic?

W: Fuck no. More faith in the process of showing up, of keeping the creative momentum going. That’s priceless. Faith in your stories, your words. Faith in the impact your writing has. Faith in the process. Faith that the right readers will find you and you will find them. But—

Me: I have to send my work out.

W: Yes. You do. And not just once. But over and over again. As long as it takes.

Me: Okay. Faith it is.

 

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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This book saved me. I read it when I was a new mother myself. It was before I had found my circle of other mom friends. I was far from family, my husband was often on the road for his job so it was just me and the girls. Her daily reflections sustained me through the dark times when I was exhausted, had no idea what I was doing and felt incredibly alone and lonely. It wasn’t a sugar-coated version of motherhood. It wasn’t the Hallmark version. It was real. It was honest.

Exhausted, she leans over the bassinet as her son wakes up from his nap and thinks, with great hostility, “Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.”

I laughed out loud, I cried and found solace in her words. Here was another mom going through the same joys, the same shit, the same despair, day after day. She gave me permission to not enjoy every single aspect of motherhood even though it would go by so fast. By being herself, she gave me permission to be more of myself.

 “We had another bad night. We finally slept for two hours t 7:00 AM. What a joke. I feel like thin glass, like I might crack.”

Thank you, Dani Shapiro.

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Jealousy. Envy. Not pleasant emotions. Personally, I don’t believe the two are interchangeable. To me, jealousy is about what somebody has, something that you want for yourself. Envy feels more inward. When I feel envy it’s because I want to be like that person. I want to have their qualities, not their things.

So, the other morning I realized I envy Dani Shapiro. I admire the hell out of her. I read all of her books. I listen to interviews with her. Every blog she posts feels like she is writing directly into my heart. So when envy came up I knew enough to pause instead of my usual MO when something uncomfortable arises which is to get the hell away from it. (Thank you yoga practice for teaching me to stay.)

Envy is an especially efficient mirror back to yourself if you stay with it. What you learn can act as a compass to your own truth north. I asked myself what I envied exactly.

~ All the books she’s written from memoir to novels to writing about writing

~ the way her days seems to be intimately woven around her writing life

~ she teaches meditation, yoga and writing retreats

~ she teaches in exotic locales like Positano, Italy

Then I ask myself what is exactly that I want in my life.

~ I want to explore different kinds of writing

I am taking notes now on a nonfiction book based on the class I created called Poses, Pens + Inner Peace while I continue to work on my novel and essays and blog posts.

~ I want to spend more portions of my days immersed in writing.

So, after meditating and a brief yoga practice to get all the kinks out my mind and body, I’ve begun taking my breakfast and tea straight to my desk where my first treat of the day is to dip back into Shapiro’s wonderful book on the creative life, “Still Writing.” From there I set a timer for 30 minutes and work on my novel. Then I do some mundane household task then come back to the novel or a blog post or some other piece of writing.

~ I already teach a class that combines yoga, mediation and writing.

It’s something I knew I wanted to do the minute I stepped on my mat. I feel the same energy on my mat that I feel in my writing—an energy that connects to deeper parts of myself. Holding space for a group as they release stories through yoga and writing and share with the class is an honor to me each and every week.

~ I want to expand Poses, Pens + Inner Peace beyond that one Thursday night class.

I envision taking this class as a retreat to different parts of the country, even abroad, bringing groups of women together in a sacred circle to heal, to reclaim parts of themselves they have lost, to celebrate their magnificent light.

So, really this is a thank you to Dani Shapiro. Thank you for living an authentic, beautiful, messy creative life that tugged at something in me and allowed to envision what kind of creative life I want for myself. Thank you for the example of your work ethic that I can admire and emulate to then take the steps to make that vision a reality. Thank you for the honesty of your words that pierce my heart. Thank you for sharing those words with the world.

List: Top 5 Books that Illuminated my Writing Path.

I love lists so each Saturday my plan is to share a list of some sort,                                    covering a range of topics

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These are the top five books that started me on the writing path and that I turn to again and again.

  1. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. This is the absolute first book that offered me a glimmer of recognition that perhaps I could write. Actually, that I must write.
  2. “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott She helped and continues to help me loosen the grip of perfectionism by taking it word by word, allowing myself to write shitty first drafts and writing what I can see through a 1-inch picture frame.
  3. “Ron Carlson Writes a Story” by Ron Carlson As he takes us meticulously through his process of writing one particular short story, Carlson reminds of the importance of doing the work, of staying in the room even when—especially when—I want leave.
  4. “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long This is a book about process and craft but it goes deep into all the layers of craft far beyond character, plot and setting. Never fails to get my pen moving again.
  5. “Still Writing” by Dani Shapiro I have read this gem at least three times, maybe four and am currently reading it each morning as I eat my breakfast and drink tea at my desk before plunging into my own writing. Her honest reflection of the writing life comforts me as I continue to show up to the page and to my own writing life.

What books illuminate the writer in you? Please share in the comments!

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Still-Writing-by-Dani-Shapiro

I sat at my desk this morning with some toast and a cup of tea and began reading this book again. It’s at least the third time, maybe even the fourth. With each re-reading, I underline new passages, make new notes in the margins and feel like I am in conversation with her. I pick this particular book up when I need tender yet tough guidance back to my writing self, back into a space of compassion yet dedication to the work, to the process. I love how she calls it a creative life. It’s holistic and permeates her days not just the time at her desk or on the computer. Every page, every blog post she writes, every interview she gives, I feel like she is speaking directly to me. As we begin to ease out of summer (my girls are back up at college) I needed a gentle yet firm nudge not only back to the page but back to living a writer’s life and she provides it once again.

“The writing life requires courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness, and the ability to deal with rejection. It requires the willingness to be alone with oneself. To be gentle with oneself. To look at the world without blinders on. To observe and withstand what one sees. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks. To be willing to fail—not just once, but again and again, over the course of a lifetime.”