Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The purpose of writing

I write.

I write because when I don't, I become worse than unhappy. I become morose, clogged, unsure what to do with everything I am thinking. I see clouds where there is sunlight. I fail to look up at the leaves.

I write in hope that just one person will read what I write. I write in hope that thousands of people will read what I write. I write in hope that I will change one person's life. I write in hope that I will change the world.

I write to give others pleasure. I write to make people think. I write to help others connect with something outside themselves.

I write to connect with everything outside myself.

I write not to leave a trail but to open one.

I write to let the characters in my head breathe.

I write to exorcise my demons.

I write to celebrate joy.

I write because I'm alive. I write to become more alive.

I write because I must.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting there

Never before have I been this devoted to a fiction manuscript. I just won't quit. I don't know what it is--empty nesting and it's now my child, unemployment (I hope temporary), an upcoming writers' workshop at VCFA I need to submit to, desperation as I get closer and closer to the end of life?

Well, I'm only 56. But still.

I've never been able to write about my writing process with any confidence or validity before--but this time, after tangling with multiple beginnings, drafts, and muddles, I realize I know my characters, I know the plot, and I know the setting. I know the theme! I know the middle! I know the ending!

It took several months of spilling crap out on the page. Weeks of writing with success for a couple of hours a day followed by weeks of paralysis. Months of reading other fiction I admire which can be inspiring or ... not, in that it leads to the afore-mentioned paralysis.

I think the real difference is that I have accepted that this draft will suck. It's crap! It's murk! It's completely not profound!!

This I learned through reading so many other writers' thoughts on the process that I finally know I'm not a shitty writer, I'm just a writer.

I live in misery some days. Other days I live in the vast and ephemeral world of flow.

This is cray-cray, as young adult readers might say.

I love my characters. I've loved characters before, and let them die.

Please world, don't let these characters die.

That's a prayer.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Feel the warmth from within

Hi Writers,

At my workshop last week, participants asked for more prompts to keep them going. For this week, with the sun sinking earlier and earlier and the chill driving us indoors, many of us feel the dark. Light lamps can help, but what helps even more is becoming in touch with the peace within. This season is one for rest and rejuvenation--even if you are a skier!

So, what contributes to loneliness for you, and what are some ways you can overcome it?

The most profound way to overcome loneliness is to watch the emotion enter your head and accept it, then let it pass by. There is always companionship from within.

In some of us, there are way too many voices in our heads!!

The problem, of course, is that if we listen to the typical narratives that run through our heads, we might find ourselves in the story we tell that we are alone, not good enough, rejected, ignored ... and any number of other fictions.

Let's get to the truth of it. We are never alone. Love doesn't require physical presence, and the love we feel and receive from the universe, our Higher Power, God, the Goddess, or whatever name you would like to use, sustains us remarkably well.

Consider this: Is the truth that you are actually more bored than lonely?

Don't turn on the television to cure boredom -- at least not for hours at a time. Make a conscious choice how you would like to use this wonderful time.

And then, write about it. Here is a piece you will be eager to share with others who experience similar feelings.

Our society has so much isolation built into it, but the words we use can change our attitude. What if we were to use words about enjoying solitude, instead of suffering alone time?

Light a candle. Put on some of your favorite contemplative music. Perhaps get yourself a cup of tea with honey and milk -- one of my favorite things to enjoy in fall and winter. Cocoa will also do!

Write a journal piece on the benefits of solitude, the ways you enjoy using quiet time, the beauty of the season. Write about times when you were so busy you wished you had this quiet time. Write a short poem, rhyming or not, about the silence of winter, the view from your window. Write about a few favorite winter foods you enjoy, and one you like to prepare. Recall things you did in winter as a child that gave you pleasure, and describe them.

Write a gratitude list for all you have lived in the summer months that you don't want to forget ... Write a gratitude list for all you have available to enjoy in the colder months. Start with the blessing of being able to be inside where it's warm!

There are a few prompts for you to help you prepare for the season in which the light within us must shine even more vibrantly to combat the darkness without. Feel the balance. Feel your breath and the warmth of your heart.

Wrap yourself in that feeling.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Self Forgiveness

Last evening, I watched someone forgive herself for something that she'd felt badly about for decades.

In a writing workshop at The Enchanted Fox in Medway, Massachusetts, eight participants and I gathered for Meditation and More--a two-hour session of intimate conversation, journal writing, and cleansing breathing.

A few of the women knew each other from a writing group they participate in, but the rest of us had never met. Through some simple writing exercises that took only 5-10 minutes each, we all started revealing to ourselves and one another some of our most troubling life situations and challenges, even those that are "only" in our heads.

Truth is, the ones in our heads are the toughest to conquer. That squirrel who runs riot in our skulls is not easily quieted.

When you reflect in writing on an old misdeed, some amazing things happen. You see how minor that offense was, even if it seemed major at the time. You forgive yourself because you can see, via the writing artifact, that the person who made that error was truly another person. Still yourself, of course, but also someone younger with less knowledge, wisdom, and compassion than you have today.

Next is the real miracle, however. Forgiving yourself once makes it easier to forgive yourself again, for things that might have just happened yesterday.

Part of forgiving ourselves means making an amends sometimes. But if that isn't yet possible, the writing of the amends is the first step toward the actual. 

Other times, we have simply exaggerated the importance of the mistake. We tend to think of ourselves as more important than we really are. Everyone is not focused on us. When we see the description of the behavior that is so disappointing to ourselves, we can then go on to imagine the other person's life and get a clearer perspective of whether that person really took it as seriously as we did ourselves.

We are often our own worst critic.  Writing lets us let go of that voice for a short time, and then read what we did so that we can do it again.

Back down, inner critic! 

Then, balance the writing with a short retelling of something good you did for another person that day.

Get some perspective. Write it out.

I watched this woman's eyes light up with the realization that she can forgive herself as rapidly as she can forgive others. 

There's so much to be gained through this process, and really, nothing to lose but 20 minutes or so. And is that really a loss? 

We enjoyed being together. The group energy was in itself healing. All those good vibes directed toward one another! All that mutual support ... even among women who had just met.

There's more to say about this great experience, but not to cloud it, I want to focus today on just that one moment. Self-forgiveness. It's a beautiful thing.

Write it out. Rewrite yourself.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just so

A cozy room with a blanket,
a couple of dogs, and a cat
who has issues.
A view that sometimes paints
dappled ripples on the wall,
shadowy streams of impermanence.
An enclosure safe from wind
and cold, but also part of that 
wilderness that both does 
and doesn't give.
There are windows and 
just one door
that are sometimes open,
just enough.

Copyright 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Writing: Expanding possibilities

Recently, in helping someone rewrite her own perception of herself, we got into a discussion about so-called gendered behavior.

Clients who take my writing workshops and haven't been inundated with gender studies are often not aware that so much of what we do is because we are conditioned to behave a certain way based on what was said when we emerged from the birth canal: "A boy!" "A girl!" Soon enough came the pink vs. blue, the dolls vs. vroom vroom toys, the princess clothing vs. the rugby shirts, and so on. Yes, young women now play rugby, too, but it's the exception, not the norm, and how often are they later spending obscene amounts of money at the hair salon while the guys grab the most inexpensive shampoo and are good to go?

I am not here to dispute that generally speaking, hetero men seem to be genetically disposed to be able to identify the make of a car from a quarter mile away, while women are oblivious to anything besides the fact that a moving vehicle went by. Four wheels? It moves forward? It's a CAR!

What I'm particularly interested in at the moment is how we negotiate gendered behavior in relationship. It's so easy to either overdo the traditionally feminine when dealing with a guy. We're still all confused about whether we're allowed to take the first (or second) step, who should make the hard decisions, which job is the one to keep when sacrificing income for parenting--when that's possible.

Just take the dating 20-something, for example. She has rules. She had a lovely time on the date last weekend? And she hasn't heard from him? She still doesn't text. Rules.

Or, she can burst through the rules, to what possible discomfort and detriment to her self-esteem? Is it still all a game?

And those already in coupledom get in tangles about who decorates, who cooks, who runs the social calendar, who writes the holiday cards, who shops for groceries, who balances the checkbook.

In heternormative relationships--the ones between a man and a woman--these conflicts seem to be unavoidable.

It's ridiculous.

Try writing it out. What role do you play in the family, whether it's coupledom, a traditional parents and kids arrangement, or two-incomes, no kids. Make a list.

Now, what do you wish you didn't have to do? What activities would you prefer to do, yet you don't get the chance, or your partner criticizes the way you approach them?

Shaking up the gendered definitions can really open the door to taking new leadership positions in families. Alternating leadership, depending on one's particular skills and inclinations, can bring about so much more balance in relationship. But you probably have to talk about it, too. Otherwise, your partner feels you are overstepping those rigid gender boundaries.

Today, I read a wonderfully perceptive New Yorker column about Gone Girl, the movie. Columnist Joshua Rothman is right--the movie (and the book) are all about the roles we still assign to men and women in American society, despite all the gender expectation busting we think we've done since the 1970s, despite all the weapon-wielding Ninja trained heroines in modern mainstream film. Note their hair is usually still perfect.

American masculinity is still a complicated jumble of testosterone driven dominance and unemotionalism. American femininity still involves the Gothic victim, though she is fortunately now in conflict with the accomplished woman trying (even if failing) to climb ladders of various sorts.

What ladders have you tried to climb, ladies? Does it make you feel rotten that we're so overtasked that making it to the top of even the children's jungle gym seems stressful these days, not playful, like it might be? What have you sacrificed? What parts of yourself lie dormant due to gendered expectations?

And gentlemen, what parts of yourself have you silenced? Do you even know your true feelings in stressful moments? Write about the last time you were befuddled when trying to figure out what you really feel about a relationship or a situation at home.

Now, consider how someone of the opposite gender might have handled the situation. Give that person a gendered name if that helps. Suspend judgment.

How is it different from the way you can see yourself behaving?

I bet you'll learn something that will help you negotiate the next delicate situation or argument with more aplomb. Reach out to the other side, but be conscious you're doing so. It can be powerful!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the other hand

By the time I started sophomore year
I knew I wouldn't be president
But there were still books to write
and the front of the procession
to march in
wearing a velvet lined hood
On the other hand
there were three pairs
of tiny fists that once grabbed my hair
to watch uncoil, unfurl, reach outward
Today when I rise
it's possible to sip my coffee slowly 
until it's cold
and to watch the swans float by
on a pond that will never be mine

Friday, April 4, 2014


Muriel Rukeyser:
"The world is not made of atoms, but of story."

My father told me
I should be
top banana
no matter what

My mother told me
wearing a flimsy skirt
without a slip
was akin to prostitution

My sister said my legs were ugly
My boyfriend said "Don't hold my hand"
My professor said my idea was dumb
My boss told me I was way too bold

Then my husband told me
I was a loser who couldn't keep a job
and that if I drove my car off a cliff
he and the children would be happy

Suddenly I knew that
only a bonfire
was powerful enough
to burn those stories
so I lit a match
and fanned the fire
and blew, and blew, and blew

The neighbors quaked in fear
it was a 12-alarm blaze
sirens blared through the night
awakening the children

I laughed and cried and clapped
before this bonfire of insanities
I twirled and danced, arms lifted
I swirled my swishy skirt

That fire
is still burning
and in its eerie glow
I hold a pen

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Climate Change

When will it stop?
Bostonians ask in the streets
encased in down
to their ankles

And I answer

In the freeze
is the thaw

I courageously toss
my boots
to the rear of the closet

Like so many memories
I used to keep
by the door

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Empty Nest

A cardinal rests briefly
on the feeder
another member of my flock
a nut loving bunch
who soar within my heart
past the treetops
among the distant clouds
flitting back, floating gently
or swooping, diving, swirling
their wings ever more iridescent
the rainbow of my eye

Monday, February 10, 2014

Julia Lipnitskaia

Blur of petite loveliness
heart muscle and grit
You have captured my heart
I could never dance on ice
like you, child of my father's
spirit, but once
I too willed myself
into the rarest, thinnest
of atmospheres
where I could barely
catch my breath

Friday, January 31, 2014

Micro Book Review #1

About the most wondrous of the five-star books I read ... Other authors with fresh insights and a sense of humor inspire me.

Adi Alsaid's upcoming release Let's Get Lost is a YA novel you don't want to miss no matter what your age. I was lucky to get an advance copy and cruised through it in two days crammed with other work ... and sighed with pleasure and instant nostalgia when I finished it. It's gentle and ferocious and has a crescendo that is so visual your eyes and heart will burst simultaneously. A must read when it comes out!

Check out Adi Alsaid on Twitter! @AdiAlsaid

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Polar Vortex

Hidden in an Excel file
that interprets
two different ways
to sell a company
and get not rich
but wealthy beyond
one's wildest imaginings
are the words I need
to pay the rent

Bring on the frost
and gusts wild enough
to bring down wires

I want to light some candles