Already Happy

February 26, 2014

True happiness has no cause. It is the natural state of our being, when unobstructed.  ~Ezra Bayda, from Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts)

“Let it be,” say the Beatles. How hard that is! We think that doing this or buying that or being with this person or achieving that will move us closer to happiness. But Bayda says happiness is the natural state of our being! It’s great good news that we already have it, if we can just clear the obstructions.

One of the obstructions for me is mindlessness, distraction, forgetting to stop and notice the world. Isn’t it easy to get caught in a web of striving? Today I am committing to write a haiku a day to help me remember to take a moment to just be in the world, to notice things outside my own head, and to “let it be.” Satya Robin would call this piece of mindful writing a “small stone.”

So, no matter how trite this may be, here’s the first:

Clouds blanket the sky
Trees are buffeted by wind
Yet daffodils bloom

What are your obstructions to happiness? What will you do to clear them?


Perfect

September 24, 2013

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. ~Dorothea Brande

“Everything you do is perfect,” insisted Maureen Ryan Griffin, my writing teacher at John C. Campbell last week. And isn’t that true for all of us? We are perfect just as we are, and we must strive to be better. Holding these two thoughts simultaneously has always been difficult for me. But I’m getting there! And the writing workshop moved me closer. What a warm circle writers create when they work together under the right conditions. And Maureen created just the right atmosphere.

During the week, we learned to “sprint,” to “gather,” to “sprawl,” to write dialogue, to ask questions, to list, to “leapfrog” off another’s work, and much more. If you haven’t seen Maureen’s excellent book, Spinning Words Into Gold, check it out. It’s full of great writing advice and exercises. She writes a weekly Word-zine that you can receive by email, too.

Thanks to Amy, Brenda, Dave, Harvey, Judy, Maureen, and Victor for making last week so special for me. I am going now to plan my writing practice schedule for the weeks ahead. I’m sure it will be perfect.

 


Risk

August 4, 2012

And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. ~Erica Jong

I have put myself “out there” by applying for a residency at the Hambidge Center in northeast Georgia. I imagine the competition is stiff, but I am proud of myself for applying. And, who knows? I can dream that I will be accepted to spend two weeks in the woods with my poetry!

I’ve never understood daredevils or adventurers. (Why does anyone want to climb Mt. Everest? I can’t fathom it.) But there is something about this kind of risk that is exhilarating to me. What kinds of risks affect you in that way?


Facing the Blank Page

July 30, 2012

Writing is easy.  All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

I have discovered two more favorite books on writing to add to my previous list: Writing From the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo and Writing Your Heart Out, by Rebecca McClanahan. The former encourages us to work with our own resistance rather than fighting against it. The latter helps us explore what matters to us. I used to think I read books about writing only when I was stuck and couldn’t write. But I’ve enjoyed these two titles in the midst of an ongoing practice.

At this point in my life, I am staring at a blank page, both literally in my daily writing practice, and figuratively, as I move from my library career toward an unknown future. And, as Fowler says, it can make you sweat blood! My facing the blank page each day, though, may ease me through this uncertain period. Just as writing begets writing, I believe courage begets courage.

What is your story about facing uncertainty?


Practice

May 5, 2012

Whatever your path is at this moment, every single step is equal in substance. Every step actualizes the self. Every moment of practice is always the koan of having to agree to your condition, to bring unlimited friendliness to what you are, just as you are, right now. Even your obnoxiousness, your failures, your rank inadequacy is it. Your best revenge is to include it as you. ~Susan Murphy

Hello, again, Quotesqueen/Only Moment readers. I am proud and happy to say I have at long last established two practices: meditation and writing. To these two practices I am trying to bring “unlimited friendliness” to what I am, just as I am.

The writing practice is resulting in poem after poem. Not all of them are good or will ever be good, but it sure beats not writing! I hope that I will be able to maintain it when I begin writing a nonfiction book on sustainable public libraries. My plan is to write poetry in the mornings, then work in the afternoons.

One important key to practice is, I believe, self-compassion. I found a wonderful little book called Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline, by Cheri Huber. In it is a 30-day program for change in small steps.

What would you like to change for the better? and for good?


Small Stones

July 2, 2011

Recently, I discovered a wonderful book by Sage Cohen, Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry. And, as is so often the case, this book led me to another amazing author: Fiona Robyn. You can see her blog, Writing Our Way Home,  here.

After just a couple of hours of perusing her materials, I’m already a huge fan. I have read her free downloadable book, How to Write Your Way Home. (Get it here). I have ordered two of her books from Amazon (Thaw, which you can also read for free, here, and A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life). I have signed up for her quarterly newsletter and weekly writing prompt, as well as a week-long free writing course, “The Art of Paying Attention.”

Robyn advocates careful attention to “small stones,” which she collected every day for a year. “Small stones” serves as a metaphor for noticing the world, opening our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands to experience life just as it is. Here is my small stone for today:

Squawking titmice
flurry at the feeder, scatter.
Only swinging remains.

My “Artist’s Way” creative cluster class is on track for Monday evenings, 6-8 p.m., beginning September 26 and running through October 31. I know that we will be using some of the material from Fiona Robyn and Sage Cohen. The class will focus on the creative process in all its manifestations (not just writing). Watch the NGCSU Continuing Education site for registration information. Meanwhile, write a small stone of your own!


Sestina

August 14, 2010

What you love is a sign from your higher self of what you are to do. ~Sanaya Roman

I am thrilled to be part of the Stonepile Poets, a spinoff group of Stonepile Writers. Yesterday was the first monthly meeting, and we took as our challenge writing a sestina (from Robert Lee Brewer, who spoke at the Georgia Poetry Society meeting last month). A sestina is a strict form using repetitive end words. Here’s my first attempt.

My heart is tugged by moon
Like a tide, tumbling a stone
Under water in the dark
Still, the planets shine,
Reflected by clouds,
And the night would be clear.

Can our words be as clear
as the night around the moon?
Must we speak through clouds
dropping like stones
through the ocean’s shine
phosphorescent in the dark?

We can meet in the dark
standing clear
of the dazzling shine,
the roundness of moon,
the water tumbling a stone ,
the waves rippling the clouds.

We can speak to the clouds
Using night as cloak, the dark,
Letting words sink like stones,
Going on until we are clear
In the ever-present hover of moon
Over the water, bottomless shine.

Once we knew how to shine
Before the drifting in of clouds
That covered our radiant moon,
That left us stuttering in the dark
Both wishing it were clear,
Both tumbling like stones.

Now you are my touchstone:
My heart feels your shine
Under the ocean waves, now clear,
Now drifting through clouds
A shape both dark
And lit by floating moon.

You are moon stone,
charming dark shine,
flowing clouds clear.

Thanks, Robert Lee Brewer and thanks, Stonepile Writers/Poets for continuing inspiration!


Things That Make Me Want to Write

August 5, 2010

I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to earth. ~Pearl Buck

Lately I have found myself not in the mood to write here, forgetting that this blog was supposed to be a writing practice. It is time to get my mind down to earth. I could list many excuses, but where would that get me? Instead, I think I’ll make a list of things that make me want to write.

The new fancy, retro pen I bought today (photo above) * the fact that I finally got a refill for the other fancy pen I was given many years ago * getting comments on my blogs * my 3-page-a-day “morning pages” practice * the joys of air conditioning * reading other blogs about writing or with examples of writing * rereading my own blog posts * getting comments on my blogs * actually writing * talking to writers * remembering dreams * reading about writing * having something else I should be doing (I know, this is a negative-positive, but what can I say?) * going for a walk * hearing writers read from their works * getting comments on my blogs * emotional intensity * not playing computer Scrabble (another np) * watching butterflies * reading classic literature * attending my writing group meetings * getting comments on my blogs * waking gently * learning new words * people-watching * oh, and did I mention getting comments on my blogs?

What makes you come alive? What inspires you to do whatever creative thing(s)  you are meant to do in this world?


Publication

June 27, 2010

If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.
~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

My goodness…another Brenda Ueland quote! Today I received happy news that one of my poems, “Only Moment,” will be published in the Georgia Poetry Society’s anthology, The Reach of Song, 2010. And my article entitled “Mindful Leadership” was published in the most recent issue of the Georgia Library Quarterly. The choice of quote today is because on rereading both of these works, I know I could have done better. Both were submitted in the flurry of job endings and beginnings, family illness, and retirement.

Still, there is something about publication that is encouraging and makes one want to go on writing. Perhaps these two pieces are as good as it gets. Or perhaps submitting them “before their time” was my way of staying committed to writing, in spite of the intrusion of life. At any rate, here I am today, at my blog, sharing with you.

Where does your vision exceed your ability to express it?


Dear Blog

May 18, 2010

I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows. ~Emily Carr

Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been tired. Yes, I’ve been adjusting to major life transitions and doing some heartwork. But, dear blog, I’ve also been doing fun things…Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival. The Hike Inn.  Writers’ group meetings. Yoga. And soon I’ll be going to the John C. Campbell Folk School for a weekend. A retirement gift to myself.

So, my poor neglected blog, please forgive my absence. It is not for lack of love for you and my readers. It is just that life has gotten in the way recently. So I hope you have been entertaining yourself while I’ve been away. Perhaps you visited other blogs or checked your statistics or reread some old posts. Because, dear blog, your old posts are almost never time-sensitive!

Here’s to you, dear blog. May you live a long, interesting, regret-free life!


Hello Again!

May 3, 2010

Do you know that disease and death must needs overtake us, no matter what we are doing? What do you wish to be doing when it overtakes you? If you have anything better to be doing when you are so overtaken, get to work on that. ~Epictetus

I have missed writing. In the flurry of changing jobs, preparing for retirement, completing a demanding class, and taking a couple of short trips, I forgot what I want to be doing when I am overtaken. Luckily, Teresa has reminded me: It is writing! Or perhaps writing is the means to the end: living mindfully, being present for life.

So, today, I am grateful for readers. (I have missed you!) I am grateful for writers, especially the Paperwhite Writers and the Stonepile Writers. I am happy to be back at the keyboard.

Epictetus calls us to our important work on earth. What is it that you want to be doing?


Only Four?

March 31, 2010

Ev Bogue, who blogs at Far Beyond the Stars, has an intriguing post encouraging us to focus on what’s important. Ev’s four priorities are Writing, Yoga, Cooking, and Reading. If I had to list the top four things that I care most about, what would they be? And what would I eliminate? (Ah, there’s the rub–saying no!) Undoubtedly, writing and yoga would also appear in my list.

What would your four priorities be?


More and Less

February 20, 2010

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours. ~Swedish proverb

Who could argue with that bit of wisdom? It got me thinking: What do I want less of? More of? Here’s my list. Hope you’ll share yours.

Eat less; move more.
Keep less; toss more.
Waste less time; write more.
Fret less; smile more.
Fear less; love more.
Sit less; walk more.
Acquire less; give more.
Look inward less; look outward more.
Work less; play more.
Ignore less; help more.
Complain less; express gratitude more.

What do YOU need less of? More of?


Writing for My Life

February 13, 2010

First, it is impossible that you have no creative gift. Second, the only way to make it live and increase is to use it. Third, you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

Sparrow at the suet feeder,
Fluffed to twice his size for warmth.
Snow on the mountains gleams
in the morning sun, mounds on the ivy
outside my window. I am between
tasks, home from travels, homework
to be done. My life depends
on this small pause, this moment
of quiet snow and sparrows.


The Year in Review

December 31, 2009

If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree. ~William Butler Yeats

At the end of the year, it seems fitting to review 2009 in at least three ways: (1) rereading this blog, testament to my passages this year; (2) going through my gratitude journal for the last year, and noting the “gratitude intentions,” that is, things I have wanted to be grateful for in future; and (3) considering the list of questions in the Year End Ritual described in The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka.

The Year End Ritual questions reveal my intention to move toward greater acceptance, connection, and egolessness. My summary aspiration statement is this: I will radiate love, acceptance, and gratitude from my authentic center into the world. (This shouldn’t take long, hahaha!)

Here are the themes from my gratitude aspirations during 2009: equanimity for both my husband and me as we move through family illnesses and deaths * robust health and vitality * practice (yoga, meditation, healthy eating, mindfulness) * a sheltering sense of community, warm friendships * letting go, acceptance, non-attachment * writing and other creative pursuits * love, compassion, and an open heart * right livelihood, meaningful work, being in tune with my calling * honoring my commitments to myself * opportunity to contribute to a better world * confidence, poise, and groundedness * more play, fun, lightness of being

And finally, here are selected blog posts from 2009, the “Cliff Notes” version of the year!

Generativity, February 9
Finding one’s true path is important for the world, as well as for the self.

Painting Myself, February 28
On the changing nature of autobiography over time

An Undivided Life, March 14
Discovering Parker J. Palmer and healing separation from self

Flowing Water, April 6
Surrender to the channel in which one’s life flows

Spiraling, May 1
Life is a spiral; each day we learn its lessons in a new way.

In Praise of Slowness, May 4
Basking in our lives instead of running in and from them–see also Moodling Day, August 2 and The Myth of Multitasking, October 25

Gifts, May 5
What’s easy for us might just be what we need to be doing.

Happiness and Belonging, August 10, an expansion of Thread, January 20
We are everything and nothing.

This is My Real Life, August 15
Transforming and softening our will into willingness

Groupthink, August 29
The antidote–laughter!

Goals Are Not Intentions, November 21
Read this before you make any New Years resolutions.

Wishing you all a joyous, mindful, creative, accepting, poetic, authentic year full of learning, laughter, love, and gratitude!


Writing as Discovery

December 21, 2009

We also want to find out what our own inner self wants to reveal to us in the midst of the clatter of the world. This takes letting go of our manic lifestyle long enough to pause and be silent so that we can hear the chords of our own being above the cacophony of our distracting and seductive world.

Poetry is too intimate to be nailed down in strictly linear terms. Reading a poem is more like comprehending a multifaceted totality all at once than like following logical steps to a single conclusion. It is more like entering spirals of possibilities than like walking a straight line to a single destination.
~David Richo, Being True to Life: Poetic Paths to Personal Growth

Writing is discovery, and psychotherapist David Richo affirms this with his wonderful new book. I believe poetry is the written form that brings us closest to the unconscious in us, and it can be as revealing as our dreams. I have taken Richo’s suggestion and begun writing my journal in poetry-length lines.

As I read this book, I encountered over and over things that resonated with me–“spirals of possibilities” not the least of them. (My new business blog is called “Spiraling,” and I use a nautilus as a sort of logo–see “My Other Blog” box at right). Imagine my surprise when I visited Richo’s website and found a free downloadable book with a nautilus as the cover illustration! Positively synchronistic.

This book is a gem for anyone who writes poetry, who wants to write poetry, or who just wants to better understand the self. Richo provides solid guidance and writing and meditation (visualization) exercises that will help the reader uncover the poem that wants to write itself in the service of healing.

See other entries on this theme: “Why I Write” and “Being Flow.”


Action Generates Inspiration

December 20, 2009

We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action. ~Frank Tibolt

Today I want to act as though I am inspired–to be kind, exercise, write poetry. Writers say almost without exception that regularly showing up for writing is essential, and I know from experience that waiting for inspiration to write is just a waste of time!

Fran Leibowitz says, “It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.” And Rollo May: “Creativity occurs in an act of encounter….”

What is it that you want to be inspired to do? Can you act as though you are already inspired?


Here I Am

November 8, 2009

You always have to be working on something because you have to trust your unconscious life, to be ready to deal with a play [poem] when it says, ‘Here I am.’ ~John Guare

This afternoon I will read, along with other Stonepile Writers Group members, at the Dahlonega Literary Festival. It would be lovely to have a new poem to read, but my last one was written several months ago. Today’s quote is a reminder to myself to get busy working on something. Nothing has said “Here I am” in some time, and I believe that is because I have not sat still enough.

Today I renew my intention to build in time for reception and gestation of images, the attunement to the senses, the mindfulness that often eludes me, crowded out by busyness. I think I will have to schedule this time, as paradoxical as that sounds, to put it on my calendar as sacred time. I am on vacation this week, so it seems like the ideal time to practice this intention.

How do you get yourself to a place where you can manifest your talents, where you are in “flow,” ready to receive that which calls to you, “Here I am?”


Reading, Not Writing

August 30, 2009

It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. ~Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

I have just finished Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, from which this quote comes. I’m on a reading jag; I’ve read 3 books and 2 magazines this weekend!

The other quote I flagged in the book was from sculptor Anne Truitt: “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” I can relate.

This week I will attend my writer’s group (for only the second time, since they took a summer break). There’s something about being in a group of creative people that makes the air vibrate with energy. I am hopeful that it will be an inspiration for me to write–that, and my new book of poetry by Jane Cooper. Here’s a short one of hers:

Praise

But I love this poor earth,
because I have not seen another….
~Osip Mandelstam

Between five and fifty
most people construct a little lifetime:
they fall in love, make kids, they suffer
and pitch the usual tents of understanding.
But I have built a few unexpected bridges.
Out of inert stone, with its longing to embrace inert stone,
I have sent a few vaults into stainless air.
Is this enough–when I love our poor sister earth?
Sister earth, I kneel and ask pardon.
A clod of turf is no less than inert stone.
Nothing is enough!
In this field set free for our play
who could have foretold
I would live to write at fifty?


Moodling Day

August 2, 2009

still water

Who is it that can make muddy water clear? No one. But left to stand, it will gradually clear of itself. ~Lao Tzu

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I was wrong about being through with this blog! It had begun to feel like an obligation rather than a pleasure, but perhaps I just needed a break. (And Karen, it didn’t hurt that on Friday you said you missed it–made me realize I missed it too!) Today I was drawn to it, and after reading a while, am ready to write again.

There is soft rain here, much-needed rain, and the trees are rejoicing. Which reminds me of the hymn we used to sing at the UU church that takes its text from Isaiah 55:12–“For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

I am having a pleasant morning moodling (for a definition, see this entry). I think it is necessary for creative work. I am going to think of Sunday as Moodling Day.

Today, I want to be in the moment, engaging in process rather than fretting about product, listening to my heart instead of my head, following my body’s rhythms, slowing down to notice details. Listening to that gentle rainfall, breathing, smiling, being part of the miracle.

How do you set aside or ensure time for moodling?


Why I Write

April 26, 2009

Today I am inspired by a poem by Dawna Markova, “Why I Write,” from Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer

There is a wonderful book of essays by 26 writers called Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction, edited by Will Blythe. This book, the poem by Markova, and the many writers I have read on writing (see also Writers on Writing) have inspired me to think about the question for myself.

It seems to me that I write in order to hear myself think. Parker Palmer suggests listening others into speech; perhaps writing is my way of listening myself into meaning. Markova’s essay is called “Thinking Ourselves Home.” She says, “I start in solitude. I start in silence. I start from the truth of where I am now to engage in a live encounter with myself. I start thinking myself home…What brings us to wisdom is using our consciousness to reflect on our thinking. It doesn’t just happen to us as we grow older.”

Why I Write

I write to hear myself into meaning,
to note echoes and mysteries.
I write to be aware of each sensation,
to approach it curiously,
to tunnel as close to its center
as my attention will allow.
I write to open to discovery,
to learn, to learn
to dive below the turbulence
where the water is calm and flowing.
I write to encounter
the unfolding of experience
so that when it has passed
I have known it.


Morning Haiku

April 6, 2009

Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself. ~Neil Fiore

The act of opening my writing notebook did the trick this morning.

my expectations
clashing with reality
finding my balance

alive with movement
color-laden branches bow
redbuds are humming

waking from a dream
about a former lover
feeling beautiful

words that don’t connect
in the nursing home hallway
she’s dreaming aloud


Writers Group

April 4, 2009

Writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like in anything else. ~Katherine Anne Porter

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~William Newton Clark

This week I stepped out in faith to read my work and be critiqued in a writers group. I am thrilled to be part of a creative community, and I hope it will result in greater inspiration and courage to confront the blank page, as well as a honing of my craft.

This encounter suggested to me that my confidence often lags behind my skill, and I have to wonder if I sometimes come across as having false humility. It is not approval that I want so much as to embrace a realistic view of my writing, to see more clearly what I want to say and how well I am communicating it. (For more reflections on approval, see Judgment.) I believe participating in this group will lead to greater clarity.

Today, I am grateful for the Stonepile Writers, for the creative process, for this blog, for all artists everywhere!


Happy Wise

March 8, 2009

Be happy. It’s one way of being wise. ~Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Thanks to Pat Wagner for this quote and the lovely photo of her bathtub full of catnip that accompanies it on her post card. In times of depression, of course, the exhortation to be happy can be a mockery. But I like the implication that for most of us, most of the time, if we have a few tools and techniques at our disposal, happiness is a choice, and a wise one.

This must be true, if we take into account the many who are in suffering and need much greater than our own, but are still able to maintain this state. Consider this quote: “Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being joyous.” ~Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Here are some of the ways I encourage myself to be happy:
practice yoga
go outdoors, especially in the sunshine
pet my cat
make love
learn something new
keep a gratitude journal
share with others in a variety of ways
visit with close friends
blog
keep track of the good things I do for myself each day
read
write poetry
make a donation to a cause I believe in
meditate
draw
organize and simplify
crochet or knit
smile

What are the ways you practice being happy?


Painting Myself

February 28, 2009

Painting myself for others, I have painted my inward self with colors clearer than my original ones. I have no more made my book than my book has made me. ~Montaigne

One of my friends often cautions me about maintaining more privacy. She is amazed that I bare my soul as much as I do in this blog, and I know she believes I will end up hurt as a result. But I am finding this experiment in personal revelation both clarifying and strengthening. I believe that vulnerability is, as David Whyte has said, “the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others.”

The quest is for personal truth. I have just read the introduction to Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay. He tells us the essayist is fascinated by the changeableness of human personality, understands that we all start from self-deception, and uses the additive strategy: “offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another…If we must ‘remove the mask,’ it is only to substitute another mask. The hope is that in the end…all these personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.”

And so this blog serves as a collection of fragments describing my journey–with movement, changing personae, and contradiction. Lopate writes, “The harvesting of self-contradiction is an intrinsic part of the personal essay form…the personal essayist is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being.”

Writing this blog is making me, even as I am making it.


Courage to Create

February 8, 2009

Do one thing every day that frightens you. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E. L. Doctorow

An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armour. ~Eric Maisel

The word courage, as Rollo May reminds us in his book, The Courage to Create, is related to the French word, coeur, meaning “heart.” What I give my heart to, I commit to, I also fear to lose. This is one kind of creative fear, the kind Shakespeare described in these lines:

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007) talks about another kind of creative fear: “For years I persuaded myself that it was hard to use my imagination. Not so. The only hard part in using it is the anxiety, the fear of being mediocre.” This fear of being mediocre is the one that manifests for me as paralysis before a blank page. So I try to remember that I have to write a lot of bad poems in order to write a good one.

Social courage, the ability to be open to new ways of thinking, is its own danger. Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

And then there is the existential anxiety of nothingness. “To live in to the future means to leap into the unknown,” says May. Creative effort is encounter. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger” ~James Baldwin

May reminds us that if we do not engage the creative encounter, if we do not listen to our own creative impulses, we will have betrayed ourselves. Further, we will be depriving the human community of our unique contributions. Let us find the courage to create.


Making Meaning

December 22, 2008

It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard. ~May Sarton

I awoke (awakened?) at 3:30 with the images from this morning’s poem and had to get up and write. It was influenced by my reading of Dr. Eric Maisel’s book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. Maisel contends that all creatives suffer depression, and that liberation from depression is possible by creating meaning, forcing our lives to mean. He offers a prescription, in fact, consisting of such things as nurturing self-support, opting to matter, braving anxiety.

Maisel acknowledges that there is a role for anti-depressant drugs, and that early trauma is often a contributor to depression. But he clearly believes that creative people are primarily depressed as a result of their need to make meaning of their lives.

I am just a little over halfway through with this book, but I have found it both fascinating and practical. For example, he offers a sort of mantra of self-soothing in the following passage: “You have to tell yourself, ‘I am the beauty in life’…You combat what shaming did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what criticism did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what a sterile environment did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.'”

Meaningful creating seems to involve working soulfully, a path with heart. How do you create meaning?


Solitude, Silence, Spaces

December 13, 2008

Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process. ~Barbara Powell

Winter is a natural time for hibernation, re-creation of ourselves, inward exploration. After three days of being with others, I am relishing my Saturday morning solitude. Jung said, “Silence is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.” I can relate to that!

Yet how many of us take time to listen to ourselves, to retreat into silence and solitude as healing practices? It is very difficult in today’s world of instant and ever-present communication. Our environments have increasingly become loud, busy, cluttered palettes without the pauses that allow us to make meaning of them.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says,”Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” In a world where there are few spaces and silences, I think we must protect that dreamy idleness Ueland calls moodling (more here); that percolation process Bonni Goldberg writes about in her book on writing, Beyond the Words.

How do you create spaces and silences that help you digest your experiences, that make room for creative response?


Living Creatively: 10 Ideas

December 9, 2008

I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.

~William Stafford

Recently I stayed overnight at Pat’s apartment, and was inspired by her creative spirit, the art on her walls, and her projects in progress. Then I saw this post on Creativity Portal–Deanne Fitzpatrick’s 101 Ideas for Living Creatively. I decided to come up with some of my own ideas for living more of an artist’s life.

1. Write or draw in a new place–in a coffeehouse, in nature, in the kitchen, at the library.
2. Find something around the house to alter or decorate and recycle as a gift.
3. Think of a game I loved as a child and play it.
4. Surprise someone who needs a lift–with a handmade card, a homemade treat, or just an act of kindness.
5. Just say no to computer games, and blog or write a poem instead.
6. Walk somewhere instead of driving. Notice the smallest things I can see along the way.
7. Carry a writer’s notebook at all times, and capture ideas, images, overheard conversations, anything that sparks my imagination.
8. Tune in to the natural world for a while with my senses. Watch birds, smell the earth, sit on the grass, listen to a flowing stream, sway in the breeze, bask in the sunshine.
9. Give myself a gift–a nap, yoga, a massage, or whatever my body needs at the moment. See what images come to me when I am nurtured and relaxed.
10. Ask a “what if” question about everything that comes my way for a day.

What helps you stay connected to your creative spirit?


From the Archives: December

December 8, 2008

Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes

My struggle last December included the following posts.

Being a Beginner
More on the recent theme of unknowing, the world of possibility.

Becoming
The year-end ritual from The Not So Big Life.

Loss
In spite of loss, we must love because our lives depend on it.

Activism
How effective is activism for social justice?

A New Year
Thoughts on New Year’s resolutions.


Thank You

November 24, 2008

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough. ~Meister Eckhart

My friend Claudia gave me a gratitude journal for my birthday. Although for a while I had a gratitude practice with an e-mail buddy, I wasn’t sure I would use the journal. There’s something inhibiting about writing on a bound blank page…But I tried it, and now I am hooked!

I like the design because each double-page spread has a place for “gratitude now” on the left, and “gratitude intentions” on the right. I am writing about things I wish to see on the right side, as though they have already happened. For example, right after the presidential election I wrote, “I am grateful for living in a country that is once again a model of peace, democracy, and the best in human relationships.” When I was thankful that my missing cat had come home, she did. When I was thankful that my mother-in-law had come to accept her life in the nursing home, she had. So although I’m not sure I completely believe in this magic, there is something about articulating what we want that seems to have power.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful to have this gratitude journal that prompts me to write about all the large and small blessings and joys in my life, and to visualize the good that can be. For what will you say “thank you” this holiday season? Don’t forget to also state your gratitude intentions!


Lost Fathers

November 23, 2008

I believe in stories. The world has enough dogma. It’s stories we need more of, stories that reverence the still, small voice that sings our life. ~Sue Monk Kidd

Sometimes I am astonished by synchronicities and things that come to me when I need them. I’m not even sure how I heard about the book on writing by Laraine Herring that I loved so much and mentioned here. When I read it, I felt as though I had a new friend! And now that book has led me to another book by her, Lost Fathers: How Women Can Heal From Adolescent Father Loss. Today I read it in one sitting. (That’s not entirely true; I stopped between chapters to have lunch!)

I even began doing the writing exercises at the end of each chapter, the “re-storying” Herring suggests. I was doubtful that I would find anything new by writing about it, as I was pretty certain I’d been sufficiently over this ground. But I was wrong. I am looking at my experience from a new perspective, and so discovering new things. As Herring says, “Time shifts our stories.”

And so today I’m grateful for Laraine Herring and this book, for writing that helps me discover and connect with feelings, and for the opportunity to “re-story” my life in a way that is in alignment with who I am now.

If you think of your life as a storyline, how is the story different today than it was at other times in your life?


Longings

November 22, 2008

Writers need to feel…We want to express our longing in its intensity. We need to write with a keen awareness of this longing, to know it better, for it is our greatest Self in seed form. What is the object of your longing? Every writer must find out an answer that will sustain, for not knowing your goal will stop your writing. ~John Lee, from Writing From the Body

Lee asks us to take a pen and paper and write the words “This Longing,” then list our longings. Here is my list. What are yours?

This Longing
For:
Community
Mindfulness
Being heard
Peace
Acceptance of what is
Authenticity
Growth
Unity with all that is
Creative work
Energy
Clarity
Full living


A Poet Must Write

November 12, 2008

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be. ~Abraham Maslow

So begins a terrific book on writing by Laraine Herring, Writing Begins With the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. I am definitely adding this one to my list of favorites (see Writers on Writing). Yesterday I shared it with Teresa, and we made a date to write together. Hooray!

After reading this book, it occurred to me that my nagging desire to go for a PhD might just be a result of my frustration about not writing. Hilda Downer said, “If someone thinks writers are crazy when they’re writing, he or she should see them when they’re not.”

Today, I am grateful for Teresa, for Laraine Herring, and for awakening once again to my desire to write.


Simplify! 10 Tips

September 16, 2008

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Does it seem to you as though everything is getting faster, more frenzied, and less personal? I am convinced that the frenetic pace and complexity of our modern lives detract from its quality. I want to remove unnecessary complications in my life, to single-task with focused attention, and to pace myself on a human time scale, with plenty of time for rest and reflection.

Suggestions for simplifying one’s life pop up everywhere these days. Here are a few of my own ideas. Note that I don’t come anywhere near practicing all of these, but they sound good! Perhaps I’ll adopt one at a time for the next several months.

1. Register at Catalog Choice and “opt out” of all the catalogs you no longer want to receive through the mail. This is something I actually have begun doing. It works like a charm, is good for the environment, and reduces the temptation to buy things you don’t need.

2. For every item you buy and bring into your house, move two items out. I confess I stole this excellent twist on the one-in, one-out idea from Leo over at Zen Habits, where you’ll find a myriad of organizational tips and ways to reduce clutter (as well as some very cool quotations!). Bought a new belt? Discard or donate two old belts or other accessories that you rarely wear.

3. Keep only one calendar for all activities (work, family, and leisure), and write everything in pencil. Make this a calendar you can carry with you at all times. If it will accommodate a to-do list, even better. That’s a good place for your list/log of activities. Keep your current address/telephone directory in your calendar also, and you’ll have it with you when you need it.

4. Buy greeting cards and even gifts ahead of time and keep them on hand, so there is no last-minute rush when you suddenly remember that a friend’s birthday is this week. I love pottery, and when I see something I like, instead of buying it for myself, I buy it to have in reserve when I need a gift for someone. I have the fun of buying it, but I’m not wondering what to do with it later!

5. Use your public library instead of buying the books you want to read. If you have the money and believe that buying the books is simpler (since you don’t have to remember to return them on time), donate them to the library after you’ve read them.

6. Develop a wardrobe of simple basics and invest in a few highlighting accessories to change your look. Gray is a good foundation color, and I don’t think you can go wrong with black and white, either. I read somewhere that Jamie Lee Curtis is wearing only black and white these days. Simple, huh?

7. Cancel your cable or satellite contract. We recently did this, and now use Netflix to get the movies and TV shows we particularly like. Not only are we no longer subjected to annoying commercials, we save a lot of time we used to spend channel surfing dozens of channels with nothing worth watching! Think you’d miss your local weather? Explore the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, or your local TV channel online.

8. When you get gifts or chachkas you don’t want or need, see how quickly you can pass them on to others. Keep these potential giveaways in a special place and raid your stash as often as you can. People will love to see you coming with their latest “prizes!”

9. Be very, very selective about what you collect and choose to keep. I am getting better all the time at appreciating things without having to own them. How many shells do you really need from your beach trip? I have some shallow shelves above my desk where I keep a few (small) items that are meaningful to me. Otherwise, I try not to collect things (of course I can say this only if we don’t count books and music!).

10. Keep a “tangent journal.” This is an idea I (again, shamelessly) lifted from another of my favorite blogs, Write to Done. But it doesn’t have to apply just to writing. Use it for reminders to yourself, to capture great ideas you hear about, or to record interesting things you’d like to know more about. Or better yet, instead of creating another journal, use that to-do list in your calendar!

How have you simplified your life? What are your techniques for keeping your composure in this whirling dervish of a world?


Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me your suggestions for wording for my sign…


From the Archives: September

August 31, 2008

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

September begins tomorrow. Now that this blog is a year old (and then some), I have decided to honor the first day of each month (or in this case, the day before the first day of the month) by bringing back a few posts from the previous year. Here are some from last September.

Expanding Time
Time expands when we are present in the moment.

Economic Equality
With our presidential election looming, consider the concept of raising all boats.

Letting Go
I’m convinced this is one of the keys to happiness.

Discourse
How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!


Renewal

August 30, 2008

The wave always returns and always returns as a different wave. ~Marina Tsvetaeva

Jekyll Island, 2007

These words are from the Russian poet’s essay on lyric poetry. According to Tsvetaeva, renewal is the “pivot of lyricism.” Edward Hirsch writes about this idea here, and I love what he says about poetry causing us to “deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.” Geez, no wonder I love poetry!

There’s something lovely and hopeful about this line. I’m reminded of new mornings that bring a fresh perspective, rain that clears the air. Today, I have practiced an old yoga routine, one that my body remembers from long ago–so long ago, in fact, that I practiced to a Richard Hittleman LP (that’s long-playing 33rpm record, for those who aren’t sure!). A returning wave, but a different one as well, rolling through this 54-year-old body.

Earlier today, I worked on my journal project. I am culling things I want to keep from old journals and destroying the rest. Things I want to keep are generally quotations (are you surprised?), ideas about writing, poems, titles of book I’ve read, and major events of my life. I am almost caught up to the present and can certainly say that renewal has been a theme. Although these journals may read over time like the same old same old (and are often quite boring!), I can see from a longer perspective and condensed view that each time I wrote about a returning wave, it was also a new wave. 

What does renewal mean to you?


Words That Sing

August 29, 2008

In journalism, there is no music that does not conform to truth; in poetry, no truth that does not conform to music. If you can’t find truth that makes music, you must change truth to make music. ~Judson Mitcham

I’m sure that is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of an idea I heard Mitcham express in a writer’s conference in 1996. He asked, “Where does the poem sing?” At the same conference, Mike Fournier asked us to consider how a poem would sound to someone who doesn’t speak English. He said the sound of a poem is what makes it memorable.

The two books I remember from my earliest reading days were a cloth book and a Disney book. The cloth book began, “How big are you baby, why don’t you know? You’re only so big, and there’s still room to grow.” The Mickey Mouse book began, “Bang, bang went the hammers, and zzzzz went the saws. A new house was being built.” I remember these lines because they were music. As were the Cautionary Verses of Hilaire Belloc I memorized and recited as a child. (“The chief defect of Henry King/was chewing little bits of string…”) Verses may not be poetry, but they can teach us about words that sing.

Charles Olson talked about the poem as syllable + line: The head, by way of the ear, to the syllable. The heart, by way of the breath, to the line. Makes perfect sense to me. I don’t know if this one sings, but here’s a poem from 2004.

Wildflowers

The ones we saw: violets in profusion,
dwarf crested iris, trillium,
the ubiquitous cinquefoil.

We stooped to see the brilliant red stamens
on the tiny star chickweed
and exclaimed at acres of mayapple
umbrellas all along the trail.

The ones we didn’t see–
pink lady’s slipper, mountain laurel,
and the majestic rhododendron–
will come in their own time.

And the ones we overlooked
will keep their secrets, while we
will go on planting our huge feet
one in front of the other until
we must lie down with our sisters
among the leaves.


Healthy Habits Redux

August 25, 2008

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do. ~Confucius

I had such good intentions of practicing healthy habits, losing weight, getting fitter, in my post of May 17. Things have not worked out the way I envisioned them then, but today I am again eating well, doing yoga, meditating, and loving what is. For I know that these practices are a series of choices, moment by moment. I am starting a tiny journal (a Moleskine Cahier to be exact) to record my motivation, resistance, and success. I can’t imagine what life would be like for me without the ability to chart, to write, to record!

On another topic entirely, our Night-Blooming Cereus bloomed last night! I always feel like I am witnessing a miracle when that happens. There are more buds, and I hope to take a picture tonight for tomorrow’s blog entry. Meanwhile, here’s another blog devoted entirely to this extraordinary member of the cactus family, including some beautiful digital photos by Professor Robert Fovell.


Deeper and Wider

August 19, 2008

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. ~Shira Tehrani

I have been considering death and dying a lot lately, as death’s shadow falls on members of my family. Of course, mortality and the knowledge of our mortality are conditions with which we all have to contend. As a young person, I remember thinking I had some sort of “edge” on understanding it because of losing a parent at 14. But midlife brings a new level, a new way, of understanding. Life is a spiral, after all.

Given that the length of my life is an unknown, I am cheered to think about having at least some measure of influence over the “width and breadth” of my existence. Learning every day is one of the most important ways I sustain myself and engage with the world. Writing is one way of learning, as I write into understanding, not from it. Today I am profoundly grateful for learning, for writing, and for you, the imagined reader.

Namaste. (All that is best and highest in me greets and honors all that is best and highest in you.)


Funny Favorites

August 11, 2008

It’s time to lighten up! Too much sadness, illness, and seriousness lately. And just to shake things up further, today the commentary is the prelude to the quotations. Here are a few of my favorite humorists and a sampling of their witticisms I particularly like. Enjoy!

Oscar Wilde
* In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
* The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

Dorothy Parker
* The cure for boredom is curiosity; there is no cure for curiosity.
* This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

Mark Twain
* Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
* The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Groucho Marx
* I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book.
* Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Do you have funny favorites to share?


10 Tips for Reading This Blog

August 5, 2008

We read to know we are not alone. ~C. S. Lewis

It seems fitting that as I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog, I am reflecting on what it means to me. Yesterday, I thought about why I write here. Today, I share a few ways of interacting with the blog. Let me know if you have others.

1.  Daily Meditation: Subscribe by e-mail and receive new posts in your inbox as a daily meditation. (OK, sometimes when I’m busy it’s every few days!)

2.  Tiptoe Through the Tag Cloud: Click a term on the tag cloud to find postings on a particular topic.

3.  Rockin’ Blogroll: Explore related blogs (also blogs I just like) by clicking on the links in the blogroll.

4.  Get a Feed: Subscribe in a reader so you are notified of new posts and can read or ignore them as you have interest or time.

5.  A Month in the Life: Pick a month in the last year and dip into the archives for a varied selection of posts.

6.  Express Yourself! Leave a comment, then subscribe to the comments for that post (click on the RSS 2.0 link), so you can see when others respond.

7.  Digg It! Share the blog with others. Forward posts you particularly like or want to share. (I will be adding a badge for Digg as soon as I figure out how to do that.)

8.  A Bundle of Bookmarks: Click to bookmark on your browser or on a social bookmarking site such as Delicious.

9.  The Pop Top: Check out the most recently-viewed posts in the Top Posts box.

10.  Link to Library Stuff: Visit the I Love Libraries site or my LinkedIn profile for professional connections, whether you’re a librarian or just care about libraries.

There you have it–ten ways to enjoy and interact with this blog. See you in the ether!


Why I Blog

August 4, 2008

Many ideas grow better when they are transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

The greatest gift we can give people is our work on ourselves, so that we become an environment for them, so that, if they should ever want to come up for air, there’s nothing in us that would keep them stuck. ~Ram Dass

The future enters into us in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it. ~Margaret Fuller

He who finds a thought that enables him to obtain a slightly deeper glimpse into the eternal secrets of nature has been given great grace. ~Albert Einstein

Words do two major things. They provide food for the mind, and create light for understanding and awareness. ~Jim Rohn

These are some of the reasons I have found this blog satisfying and continue to do it. I discover glimpses of truth, I bear witness to personal revelations, and I have hope that sharing my journey will occasionally have meaning for others. Why do you read?


Do What You Love

July 24, 2008

Pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. All other tangible rewards will come as a result. ~Maya Angelou

I love blogging! I am surprised by that, as it is not something I would have ever thought I would enjoy so much. I’m astonished that I have been writing here for almost a year. I’ve always known I loved words and writing, and all my writing came out as poetry until I found this medium. But I’ve discovered that I really like writing these short, personal essays and ruminations. As I said in the last post, writing pulls me along into the work I need to do, suggests new ways of looking at life, and helps me make sense of the world. Grace Paley said, “You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.”

What do you love doing? If you can’t do it for a living, how can you do it as an avocation? Or what small bit of it can you integrate into your life right now?


No Regrets

July 20, 2008

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it is good only for wallowing in. ~Katherine Mansfield

Amen, Ms. Mansfield! I wish I had a nickel for every time I have wallowed in regret. It is tempting to think one’s sins or shortcomings are somehow more numerous or egregious than others’, that we are special in some way. Some of mine are sins of omission, some commission, but in the end, we all have them. While confession may be good for the soul, there are some I still can’t confess to even my closest friends, and I think the better route is to forgive myself and let go of the past, to stop wasting energy on embarrassment and regret.

After all, it was I who in the spring of 2004 wrote the lines, “I unfold my failures like old clothes/hug them to me, then let go,/watch them sail away on the wind.” I find that writing is so often prophetic, that it gets at truths long before I can understand them fully. Which is one reason this blog is so important to me: Even if I am not living my professions here, they are pointing in the direction I want to go, helping establish and explore my intentions. For example, way back in a January post I wrote, “More and more of being here now, and less and less of dwelling on past mistakes or future possibilities, is liberating and exhilirating.” Life is a spiral.

Have you found freedom from regret? What helps you to forgive yourself for your transgressions?


Love and Creativity

July 12, 2008

For I know that the energy of the creative impulse comes from love and all its manifestations–admiration, compassion, glowing respect, gratitude, praise, compassion, tenderness, adoration, enthusiasm. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live. ~Thoreau

Two of the poems I submitted recently (see Submission), “Easter” and “White Pine Cabin,” will be published in the anthology at Kennesaw State University (Poetry of the Golden Generation, volume IV)! I think Ueland was on to something, because both of these were written from love and its manifestations, and I do believe that all my poems are from that place, regardless of their subjects.

Today I want to be grateful, loving, compassionate. I want to recover enthusiasm, so noticeably absent lately. Perhaps instead of sitting down to write, I need to stand up to live.


Writing

July 6, 2008

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. ~Gloria Steinem

The interesting thing about this quote for me is that it applies to all kinds of writing. I am happy writing a paper for my graduate class or a professional journal article if it is on a topic of interest to me. A poem is bliss. This blog feeds me. None of these things is easy to do, though–why? Because each is discovery, requires something of me, can’t be done without engagement and effort. But how satisfying when I’ve produced a written work!

A blue-tailed skink pauses
between its cover of ivy
and the Japanese honeysuckle.
Blue sky peeks
from behind cumulus clouds
of mid-summer.
Sam is somewhere
watering plants, and I
am typing characters
that represent the seen
and unseen. Words
that act as temporary pins
for this moment.

What engages you? What is it that you do that when you do it, you don’t feel you should be doing something else?


Blogsickness

July 2, 2008

There is nothing that can stop the Creative. If life is full of joy, joy feeds the creative process. If life is full of grief, grief feeds the creative process. ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, in Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 196)

Again I will say that this is one of my favorite books. The last chapter, from which the quote is taken, is called “Heartbreakthrough.” I love that idea, and in fact have been having visions of my heart breaking wide open. Although I must say, I have not been able to tell that my grief of recent days has fed the creative process. It must have (else from whence came visions?), but I’ve been “blogsick” at being unable to write here lately.

So I’m glad to be back at the keyboard today, talking to myself with a hope that someone kind is eavesdropping. Iris Dement in person last week, what can I say? Claudia said I was acting like it was Elvis, and I said, “Iris is my Elvis.” The enormous fun I had with friends brought my loneliness into sharp relief. Iris didn’t sing “Got No Time to Cry” but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Have you ever had a heartbreakthrough? I feel one coming on…


Graces

June 15, 2008

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.  ~Vita Sackville-West

Life has been slipping by these past few days, with work-related travel, oppressive heat, visiting relatives who are not well, and general malaise. But I’m told there is at least one person who misses these blog entries when I don’t do them (besides me). So Janice, this one’s for us!

I’m behind in reading my Shambala Sun issues, so I took a half-finished copy with me on my recent trip to south Georgia. I was struck once again by how much I enjoy that magazine! I’m not sure I even consider myself a Buddhist, (although it’s probably the organized system for which I feel the most affinity), but there are always authors and articles within the Sun that inspire and teach me. So it is one thing I am grateful for today.

Another is the steadfast love of my husband waiting to greet me from my travels. There is language that enriches my life immeasurably. True friends who teach me something about the impact of my presence on earth and who want only the best for me. Yoga that helps me focus my attention on my body. Music, always music, that has the magical ability to lift my spirits and my spirit. Of course there are too many things to list here; these are just a few that grace my life.

What comes to mind when you consider life’s blessings? How does it change from day to day, month to month, year to year?


The Case Against Will

June 1, 2008

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. 

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.” (God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts. 

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.


Clear Space

May 28, 2008

Present-moment awareness creates a gap not only in the stream of mind but also in the past-future continuum. Nothing truly new and creative can come into this world except through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility.  ~Eckhart Tolle, from The Power of Now

Thinking about that clear space, ironically, as I prepare to return to work after a week-long vacation. But the space Tolle means is space we can have access to anytime. Ceasing our obsessive thinking, coming into the present, we understand that time and space are one, here and now.

This is good news. It means creativity is available to me virtually anytime, anywhere. I don’t have to have a special writing pen or desk, a lot of free time or extra energy, or even inspiration (especially not ideas!). I have only to stop, notice, be in the now. Surrender to life, to the moment. Tolle says, “No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.”

How do you experience creative moments? Do they come unbidden; do you arrange conditions to induce them? What if you surrendered to the gap, that clear space of infinite possibility?


Submission

April 29, 2008

Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.  ~Cyril Connolly

It has been many years since I have sent off a poem, but I have just submitted three poems to Kennesaw State University’s 2008 Poetry of the Golden Generation, a juried competition for southern poets 50 years of age and older. I hope this is an indication that I am paying more attention to the poet part of myself, as I believe it is the closest to my authentic nature, egolessness, the part of me that flows with all that is. Here are the poems:

Easter

The dogwood shines in the early light,
practiced from a night of bright moon.
The yellow-breasted chat is back,
repeating its repertoire.
To the east a pale orange glow
lies across the hills like a promise.

While some make last-minute trips for eggs,
you will think of “the old man,” twenty-six,
flying over Poland that Easter, 1944,
the day that twisted his future into a new shape,
that made him the father you knew:
wounded, sober, uncomplaining.

He is falling, unconscious, thousands of feet
to a Danish beach,
ribs and ankle broken, and waking
to the mercy of strangers,
the offer of boxed chocolates
to make up for his missing arm.

Somehow he rises through all that dark
to find the stone rolled away,
an ordinary life awaiting.
Patient and peaceful, he abides
until his soul is freed, a calling shrike,
circling in the blue sky.

White Pine Cabin

The wind is never far away
from this mountain cabin.
A breeze is sometimes just around the bend
even when the pines are stone-still.
In these days, a hammock hung
between before and after,
I sing to the mountain laurel
growing in thickets on the knoll.
I gather pine cones, memories,
resolutions for the life ahead.
I unfold my failures like old clothes,
Hug them to me, then let go,
watch them sail away on the wind.

Redbud

Spring afternoons at home,
I like to sit in the glider on the deck,
drink a beer under the wide blue sky
and watch the dogwood open,
my heart drunk with love
for the way you can’t wait
to show me the buzzing redbud
shimmering with bees and skippers.

You lead me to the top of the hill.
The black cat slinks nearby,
feigning interest in the moving grass.
Amazed, I suddenly want to contain that tree,
to feel the hum in every blossom
of my being, every pore electric,
to be lifted over the field
by thousands of tiny wings
beating to the rhythm of my heart.


A Hand Up

April 25, 2008

What do we live for, if it is not to make life a little less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

I am writing less, working more, and handing power over to stress these days, in spite of the beautiful greening and flowering of spring. Stop. Breathe. Rest. Pay attention. I have to remind myself. It is easy to get far removed from creative impulse, to forget to listen to inner wisdom, in this world so full of distractions.

Last night my friends made me laugh in spite of myself. Eliot’s quote makes me think of a bad poem I once wrote with an ending something like: “Why would we be here/if not to offer a hand up/still reaching with the other?”

This evening, the indigo bunting is what takes my breath away.


Just Write It!

April 17, 2008

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.  ~Erica Jong

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

More writers on writing (there’s an earlier post by that title). Today I broke down and bought a Moleskine notebook at Barnes & Noble. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I have been lusting after one since I read this post at Put Things Off.

I want to write, to be drunk on writing, to be a writer (and NOT a writer-who-doesn’t-write). This blog is the closest I’ve come in years to having a consistent writing practice. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the dark places or the scary blank page or my own power. But, as with many situations in life, the best solution is to act with courage. To write.

so much depends
upon

a black Moleskine
journal

lined, with back
pocket

beside the blue
notecards.


Being Flow

April 11, 2008

You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.  ~Grace Paley

When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.  ~William Baziotes

Writing (or any creative work) is discovery. That is why it is so frightening, so exhilirating, so compelling. This blog is my exercise in writing in what I don’t know. When the blog entry is finished, the subject reveals itself. I merely try to follow my mind and heart where they lead–first in choosing a quotation, then in my response to it.

This is good practice, I believe, for surrendering to life, for letting myself “be carried” by the universe, for loving what is. Perhaps writing will save my soul. I keep returning to Ray Bradbury’s advice from Zen in the Art of Writing: “WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.” There is so much wisdom in that simple exhortation. I am not sure how it could be more perfect.

William Stafford said, “Intention endangers creation.” May I approach my work with relaxation and a spirit of inquiry. May I surrender to the world with faith that I will be carried. May I set aside intention, will, and the illusion of control in order to be in the flow–no!–to be the flow–of all creation.


Creative Work

April 5, 2008

If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.  ~Van Gogh

If someone thinks writers are crazy when they writing, he or she should see them when they’re not.  ~Hilda Downer

April is National Poetry Month, and I have subscribed to a Poem-A-Day during the month of April from the Academy of American Poets. I have hardly written any poetry in years, but I still yearn to do so. I am finding the Poem-A-Day a sort of lifeline to my creative self!

No writing, yet, mind you…but I feel that the stage is being set. Daily life has intruded for far too long. Too much busyness over the last few months–work, a heavy travel schedule, and two simultaneous post-graduate classes. But today, I am going to stop and see the mist hanging between the hills, the red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder, the graceful redbud branches heavy with blossoms. I am going to stop and hear the gentle rain, feel the cool, heavy air, and smell the cheerful hyacinths in their barrel.

Poetry is, after all, rooted in mindfulness. “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams. And saxifrage can split the rocks.


Closer to Truth

March 2, 2008

I see myself changing through the reflections in outer manifestation as I myself draw ever closer to the truth of who I am. ~Sarah Susanka

I’ve always held onto a little skepticism toward the idea of synchronicity as new-age types define it, but something drew me to The Not So Big Life Web site today. There, Susanka discusses the work of Eckhart Tolle, of whom I wrote in several previous posts: The Art Spirit, Now, Grace, and Ego.

 I had never heard of Tolle until I quite randomly stumbled on the audiobook, The Power of Now. But millions of people know his name today, because Oprah has recently selected his new book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, for the book club, and will offer her “first worldwide interactive class” on this book beginning March 3.

This afternoon I read The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes. It definitely deserves a place in my list of favorites, and (just as I thought about Tolle) I can’t believe I didn’t already know it. I was struck by a continuation of the theme of drawing closer to the truth. Keyes says, “Our best writing results from a partnership of the conscious and the unconscious.” He quotes Saul Bellow: “I think a writer is on track when the door of his native and deeper intuitions is open. You write a sentence that doesn’t come from that source and you can’t build around it–it makes the page seem somehow false.”


Free Time

February 24, 2008

…the Chinese pictograph for busyness is “heart killing.” ~from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight

Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We pick up a serious book, a novel, or a magazine. If we are in America, we turn on the radio or the television, or we indulge in incessant talk. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves….Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, not talking or singing songs, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves.  ~J. Krishnamurti

Today I celebrate space, free time. In addition to my work, which includes a lot of travel and a 3-hour commute 3 days a week, I am taking two post-Master’s classes this semester. So it is rare these days to have hours without busyness and obligations, but today I have virtually nothing I have to do. No “heart-killing” for me today.

I find that order, space, and free time are helpful in stimulating my creative impulses. So I will first tidy my office and then surround myself with the tools of creativity: paper and pencil, my favorite books, art supplies, and other familiar playthings. Even the computer is a tool for creative work if I refuse to be seduced by stumbling upon new Web sites, playing computer Scrabble or checking e-mail.

Later, I may “walk in the fields and woods…observing things.”  Or practice yoga and mindfulness meditation. How do you use free time?

P. S. This is a quote that belongs with my previous post on the ineffable creative process:  Art criticism is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds. ~Barnett Newman


Resistance

February 19, 2008

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. ~Steven Pressfield

So begins the third chapter in Pressfield’s The War of Art. The author goes on to characterize this enemy of art (and of everything that calls forth our higher nature) as invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, and infallible.  And that’s only the beginning! “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work,” Pressfield continues. “If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” 

I’m glad to add this book to my list of favorite books on writing and the creative process. I believe Resistance has a lot to do with why I blog. It is oh-so-much-easier than writing poetry. And even now, I want to get up and pour a glass of wine or pet the cat, instead of finishing this post, taking my clothes out of the dryer, and then walking on the treadmill.

The only cure, of course, is that old Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” The work itself is all that saves us from evil Resistance. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to get to work.

What’s your experience with that grumpy old bear, Resistance?


Slow Down!

January 14, 2008

Beware of the anti-muse, she who distracts you and leaves you exhausted in a state of pique.  ~Christopher Richards

This quote made me laugh with recognition, as does Christopher’s site today with the animated cartoon advertising Slow Down Week (who knew this was Slow Down Week?) For me the anti-muse is decidedly busy-ness. Distraction, exhaustion, pique. I’ve never heard more apt adjectives for the effects of busy-ness.

And the antidote to the anti-muse, for me, is mindfulness. Noticing. Curiosity. Being present in my body (hmm, my hands are cold; hmm, my back is tired; hmm, I need to take a deep breath; hmm, something smells wonderful in the kitchen). Stillness. Pausing. Engaging. Being here now.

My best writing practice sessions begin with sensing the world around me and describing that as unconsciously as I can. “DON’T THINK,” is Ray Bradbury’s wise advice for writers. Thinking is the death of creativity, bringing with it judging, censoring, intention, self-consciousness, and abstraction, none of which will engage the reader. 

So, I for one will participate in Slow Down Week for the remainder of this week (as best I can in the midst of overstimulation, hyperactivity, and “noise” of all kinds). How about you?


Writers on Writing

January 2, 2008

Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?  ~Brenda Ueland

Intention endangers creation. ~William Stafford

To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.  ~Ray Bradbury

In no particular order, here are my favorite books on writing:

*Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
*Writing the Australian Crawl and You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford
*Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
*Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg
*On Writing, by Stephen King
*Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
*If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland

…and a couple of titles on the creative process: 

*Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
*Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland

And when we start taking ourselves too seriously, there’s always Steven Wright: “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” (See Wright on Writing.)


Words

December 17, 2007

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life, they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.  ~Anne Lamott

I am sometimes stunned by the power of words. This language that we take for granted can, as Lamott attests, lift us up and connect us to each other and everything in profound ways. Think about the last time you received an unexpected kind word. There is almost nothing more thrilling to me than an idea expressed in a new and graceful way. And I am ecstatically one with the world when I write what I think is a good poem. I believe that all artists fall in love with their creative media, and I think there is little doubt that my medium is words.


Letting Go

September 16, 2007

Finished artworks that we may see and love deeply are in a sense the relics or traces of a journey that has come and gone.   ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, from Free Play (p.6)

I remember being amazed by Natalie Goldberg’s account of her writing booth at the Minnesota Zen Center Summer Festival and Bazaar, where she sold spontaneously-written poems for 50 cents or a dollar and never looked back.  She says, “In Japan there are stories of great Zen poets writing a superb haiku and then putting it in a bottle in a river or nearby stream and letting it go….This is a profound example of nonattachment.” (from her book Writing Down the Bones)

Nachmanovitch helped me understand this concept of letting go by making it clear that there really is nothing to hold onto.  What produced the poem or other work has passed, has floated downstream.  This would seem to make the case for being ever-present to see what arises in this moment, and then this moment, and this.


All Is Now

September 12, 2007

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
~Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

No beginning, no end…the circle of life. All time exists now. We Westerners have a hard time giving up our linear thought, our linear sense of time.  I think I love poetry in large part because it can cut through habits of thought.  Good poetry surprises us, makes us see new relationships, gives us a glimpse of the poet’s creative joy.  How does linear thought, a linear sense of beginnings and endings, limit us?  What might be possible by suspending it?


Wright on Writing

August 25, 2007

I wrote a few children’s books… not on purpose.

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.

My girlfriend does her nails with white-out. When she’s asleep, I go over there and write misspelled words on them.
~Steven Wright

I just love Steven Wright’s sense of humor.  I find that I generally like other people who also like Steven Wright.  Do you have a favorite Steven Wright joke? One of the few I can always remember is “I bought some instant water, but I didn’t know what to add.”  😀


Writer’s Block

August 19, 2007

When a man does not write his poetry, it escapes by other vents through him.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And perhaps that’s what this blog is about, after all.  No poetry to speak of for many years. Natalie Goldberg and many others talk about how much bad poetry you have to write, as writing practice, before a good poem arises. Banish the critic and just write.

Time seems short, and yet I know I make time for things that really matter. Is poetry one of those things? I’ve never felt more alive than when completing a poem, so it must be. To have a writing practice–that seems a worthy aim. Can it be done by refusing to expend so much energy on my day job?