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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We Belong to Each Other.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Sacred celebration* is essential, especially amidst the ruins.

Yes, there is pain.

Yes, there is grief.

Yes, there is rage and despair.

But look around. Who is there with you? Who is helping you keep your head above water? Who is treading water next to you, far from the safety of shore, out in the deep end of life?

The deep end is where life gets juicy. The shallow end is known. It is comfortable. But when you push off and wade or dive or plunge into the deep end, that’s when you grow. That’s when you become who you are meant to be.

And when you look around, eyes wide open you’ll see that you belong to everyone and everyone belongs to you.

We belong to each other.

We belong to the earth.

We belong to our ancestors.

We belong.

We are each other.

Our hearts belong to each other.

So, the sacred celebration happens each time we recognize this essential truth.

I hold you in my heart.

You hold me in yours.

And I am grateful.

* Inspired by the prayer written by Thomas Banyacya Sr.

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. 

 

Tools of Illumination.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I heard Dani Shapiro on a podcast this morning and she said that writing is a tool for illumination.

Yes.

Exactly.

And so is yoga which is why they work so well together. One illuminates the other.

Yoga shines a light into the dark, heavy corners of my body where I’ve stored rage and shame and grief. I move and breathe and unlock those old emotions, those old stories, releasing them.

Writing shines a light into my heart, into my psyche. I write my way into what matters, into what I am thinking or feeling on any given day at any given moment.

Through yoga and writing my path forward is illuminated.

I am illuminated and able to shine my light out into the world.

Surrounding Myself with Inspiration.

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The Celtic Goddess Boann is the most recent addition to my writing space. She is the Goddess of Inspiration and Creativity.

Judith Shaw writes, “In the same way that flowing waters clear debris in its path, Boann clears your mind of mental debris and negativity. She helps open your soul to receive divine inspiration. Call on Boann when seeking your own creative voice, an open door to spiritual insight and our connection to source.”

I love that!

My writing space cloaks me in inspiration from the colors (poppy and robin’s egg blue) to all of the books lining my shelves, from artwork and quotes to the view out the window.

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I’ve created a writing nest, a writing cocoon. I finally prefer to write here than out  in public. I light a candle (something sweet in the winter and fall, a fresh scent in spring and summer), sit at my desk that is nestled between two bookshelves with a view into our front yard, pop in earplugs, open a notebook or laptop and dive in.

The objects, words and images that surround me in this space were chosen specifically because they spoke to me. They challenge me to show up daily, to find my voice, to connect with my source.

 

Notebook Love.

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I love notebooks/journals.

I keep so many going at once:

  • one for morning pages
  • one for each WIP which is currently 3
  • one for writing practice
  • one for writing books I am working with like “The Writer’s Portable Mentor”
  • one for the Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach since I also write along with my students
  • one for yoga workshops
  • one for capturing themes & ideas for yoga classes I teach
  • a mini-notebook that fits in my purse

I figure the more opportunities I offer myself to write, the greater the possibility that I will actually write.

And it appears to be working.

“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.” ~ Jack London

Things I’m Done Apologizing For.

no apologies

Image found via Pinterest.

I’m done apologizing:

  1. For my house that may never pass a white glove test. I have better things to do with my time.
  2. Before I speak up. My opinions don’t need to be prefaced by an apology.
  3. For saying no when I want to say no.
  4. For saying yes when I want to say yes.
  5. When I need help.
  6. For my political passion. If it bothers you, unfollow me.
  7. For sending food or drinks back at a restaurant.
  8. For claiming space in public whether it’s on an airplane and I actually use the armrest or just walking down the street and not contorting my body to stay out of everybody’s way.
  9. For setting boundaries.
  10. My feelings.
  11. For being my messy, beautifully imperfect self.

 

Mother’s Day 2018.

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When my daughters were little I used to want to celebrate Mother’s Day with time alone. They’d bring me breakfast in bed along with the cards and gifts they’d made then either my husband would take them out for the day or I would go out.

Back then, that is what I needed. Time alone to recharge, to remember who I was besides “Mommy.”

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Now, my daughters are 21 and 24. They just finished up this semester at college and both had trips to go on this past week. Katie attended a LeaderShape conference and Emily went on an Alternative Break where she volunteered on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.

All those years ago I couldn’t even picture having all the time I now have. Now, all I want is to spend time with them. Today, we went to a restaurant for a vegan brunch then browsed the bookstore.

Right now, we are all just hanging out together in the family room, watching “The Good Place,” pausing it to talk then playing it again.

And it’s been the perfect Mother’s Day.

 

Writing in the Age of Distraction.

Distraction

Image found via Pinterest.

It used to be so easy to sink into my writing. Even though I had two small children, once I dropped my youngest off at pre-school, I’d slip into the nearest Starbucks, order my chai and a pumpkin scone and hunker down at a table for the next two hours.

The writing itself wasn’t easy, but the ability to focus and disappear into my writing was.

See, this was almost twenty years ago. Before cell phones and the internet and Twitter and Facebook. Back then the only thing standing between me and my writing was me, not the entire world in the palm of my hand.

Sure, I’d get distracted by looking out the window or watching people but those activities kept me in that dreamy receptive state necessary to write. Checking my phone rips a hole in that state, tearing it to shreds as I allow the noise of the world in, drowning out my voice, the voice of my story and characters.

The Freedom app helps. As soon as I set a session, turning off access to the internet on all of my devices, I immediately feel a little more present. My breath has some ease, my mind and heart unclench and I am able to turn my attention to the page for a certain amount of time. When I get to a scene where I don’t know what happens, instead of reaching for my phone, I gaze out the window and dream.

And dreaming is where the stories exist.

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.