There is an exercise I use with my students early on in the semester. It is a way for me to show them proof that they have a unique voice and that they look at things differently than everyone else around them. For this exercise, I use the blackout poetry form. I cut out an article from the newspaper and copy it. I hand out the exact same article to all the students in the class. I show them examples of blackout poetry, and then I ask them to create their own poem using the article I gave them. Afterward, I have each student read what they came up with. I have not had any students come up with the same poem. I use this as a concrete example of their own unique perspective and voice. They were all looking at the same set of words, but each of them saw those words differently. What spoke to one student did not speak to another. This is important when teaching them how to write a research paper because oftentimes they believe they have nothing to add to the conversation that already exists on their chosen topic. It is also an important reminder to them and to me that we are unique, each one of us, that we look at things from a unique perspective, and that is why we should never be fearful of voicing our perspective to others and listening to their perspective as well. We all see things differently and we should embrace that difference and let it motivate us to overcome our fear of sharing our voice with others.
I am in awe of the magical power of books…
I am in awe of the magical power of books; how one line, concept, or idea can permanently shift my perception like a key that unlocks meaning that had always been there, but I had been unable to see. This is the case with one of the books I’m reading now Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I started this book several times over the last five years, never getting past the introduction. It is clear to me now that I just wasn’t ready to read it, and now I am. This book has given me so much insight into my life by providing me with a key to unlock an amazingly vibrant element I had no idea existed. It is as if I had been living in black and white, and when I put the key in the door and opened it, my life exploded into vibrant color. The book has helped me uncover a wealth of creativity that was lying just under my skin patiently waiting for me to acknowledge it. As I read, certain concepts Estes discussed awakened a part of me that had been dormant and this awakening triggered a kind of recognition within me. In this book, Estes provides the thread, that if followed, leads to one epiphany after another. Things that had no meaning to me previously, things that just were, are now filled with meaning and make sense on a much deeper level than I ever thought possible. The message I’ve gotten so far is to pay attention to everything, that there is meaning in the things that I do and the choices that I make even if I believe at the time they are benign. I am able to look back now and see clearly the meaning behind my actions.
There have been so many threads to follow so far, but one I want to discuss today is Estes’ discussion on the importance of space clearing for women. She says:
Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and neglect its architecture till it is taken back by the forest. Gradually the structures of the psyche are overgrown until they finally are but a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche’s unconscious. A cyclical and critical sweeping will prevent this from occurring. When women have cleared space, the wild nature will better thrive (93).
Looking back, I can see a distinct cycle of urgent space clearing in my life. It is as if I reach a certain point of overgrowth, and I can no longer tolerate it. Then I purge as much from my life as possible usually in a panic. What usually follows is an increase in creativity and creative ideas, but then the energy gained from the purging begins to wane, and the beginnings of weeds emerge casting their shadows until there is nothing but overgrowth again. Now I can clearly see the cyclical nature of this in my life. I can see how I clear space for creativity in gigantic, but short-lived bursts – a kind of binge and purge. I now know that the key to getting out of this too-long cycle is to work on sustainability and the creation of a personalized ritual for space clearing both mentally and physically that I can perform regularly and not just on the cusp of spring.
This idea of space clearing reminded me of something that happened many, many years ago. I had just started taking classes at the local college and was in need of a computer. I was watching an episode of Oprah with Suze Orman, and they were discussing the idea of creating space for what you wanted in your life. The idea was that if you did not have any space in your life for those things you wanted, there was no way they could manifest. So, as a kind of experiment, I cleared off a desk in my living room and made sure it stayed empty as if the computer were already there. In a way, I nurtured that empty space by keeping it clear of clutter. Shortly thereafter, I was made aware that my credit union offered a personal loan for the purchase of a computer, and even though I had terrible credit at the time, I went ahead and applied for the loan. A week later I received notice that I was approved for the loan and the funds for the computer were directly deposited into my bank account so that I could purchase the computer of my choice. Within another week, the computer I had wanted was sitting in the empty space I had created for it. It was a powerful and positive outcome to the experiment, but in the chaos of life, I lost the lesson I had learned about creating space for the things that I wanted to come into my life.
With Estes’ reminder and the epiphany that followed, I realized that I needed to clear space to create in, but also for those things I wished to create. I cleaned up my writing room that had become overgrown with papers, books, and all sorts of excess junk from other rooms in the house. I made the decision to treat writing as a job and cleared time in my daily schedule specifically for writing. The results have been nothing short of astounding. After not having written anything in three months, I have written several blog posts, three manuscripts for children’s books, and five chapters of my novel in the last two weeks. I do realize, though, that to keep this momentum going, I must continue to look for ways to prune away the clutter in my life. One such way emerged on Sunday evening. I realized that the bookshelves in my writing room (six of them) are filled to capacity with books and magazines. It dawned on me that I had no empty space in which the things I wish to create – books – can manifest in my life. So, this week I cleared off a shelf of books as a way to create space for the books I wish to create. In doing so, I am making room for these books to exist here in the physical world and in a way, I am giving the ideas in my head permission to emerge into that empty space and as such, clear the space in my head for new ideas to emerge. I imagine, at some point, as I nurture and grow my own ideas, I will be able to clear an entire bookshelf to allow for more manifestations of my own creations in this physical world as I move away from a sole dependence on the ideas of others towards a trust in the power and authenticity of my own.
Recently, I was asked to write a guest blog post, and it jumpstarted my writing practice. The act of writing the guest post provided me with an opportunity to observe my own writing process. I did what I always do which is to try and plan the entire post in my head before writing the first word. I spent eight days juggling ideas in my mind and trying to put them together into something coherent. This planning-it-all-out-in-my-head is my usual writing routine, but what normally happens is I never actually sit down to write. I turn the ideas around and around in my head for so long that they lose their magic before ever making it to the page. This time, however, I had a deadline. The post was due in ten days, and I didn’t put the first word on paper until the ninth day. What I noticed, though, is that what came out on the page was nothing like what I had spent eight days creating in my head. It was an eye-opening experience. There are many times that I don’t put something down on paper because I can’t figure it out in my head, or I can’t get the idea shaped the way I want it to be so I don’t even bother. This experience provided me with an epiphany: I’ve been trying to do all of my writing in the distracted and chaotic environment that is my brain, and that’s why I’ve been experiencing such a profound case of “writer’s block.” I also realized that I don’t trust myself to just sit down and write, that I have some kind of aversion to simply putting words on the page without exhaustively processing them in my mind first. This issue is clearly driven by the need for perfection. Of course, logically I know nothing is ever perfect, but somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that if I couldn’t achieve that perfection in my head first, there was no point in even trying to flesh the idea out on paper. I never considered trying to work my ideas out on paper first. I never considered that the solution to my incessant writer’s block would be to let my “working/critical” mind take a break while allowing my “creative” mind to take over. Luckily, the experience of writing the guest post was just what I needed to jumpstart that process. And what came out as a result was raw, authentic, and vulnerable rather than distant and rehearsed, and it was a much more powerful piece because of it. So, my new practice is to write no matter what. This doesn’t mean that I have to stop trying to work things out in my head, but it does mean that will no longer let my inability to work it all out in my head keep me from putting words down on paper every single day. The results of implementing this practice: In two weeks I have completed drafts of two children’s books, written five blog posts, and rewritten the first two chapters of my novel!
After a long hiatus, I returned to my first love…
After a long hiatus, I returned to my first love – creative writing – last September. This led to the publication of the essay The Life Inside Me in October, and then the essay Invisible in December. During this time, I also managed over 56,000 words of a new novel for #NaNoWriMo2016 in November (my first win). Then, as commonly occurs when you return to that thing that calls to your soul, all hell broke loose, and my life as I knew it imploded. Since then, I have slowly, painstakingly clawed my way back to a regular writing practice and just today started rewriting the #NaNoWriMo novel tentatively titled The Waiting Place.
Along the way, I came across a podcast that gave me the extra fuel I needed to complete the journey back to writing – Yoga Church. One particular episode really spoke to me and lit me up: Episode 36: Honoring Voice where Meadow DeVor and Pixie Lighthorse discuss reconnecting and honoring your inner voice. I have had an incredibly difficult time hearing my inner voice, and even when I did, I have had an even harder time trusting what I heard and following through with its guidance. Enter Pixie Lighthorse’s newest book: Prayers of Honoring Voice. This book contains prayers that assist the reader in asking for divine help with honoring that inner voice in all that he or she does. I am not a person who believes that there is an old man somewhere up in the sky that selectively hands out blessings or punishments. In fact, I completely reject the idea that such a deity exists, so I’m often hesitant to turn to anything that has the word “prayer” in the title (or “church” for that matter). I believe in a protective, loving, forgiving, encouraging, and compassionate energy that flows through everything that we do should we choose to invite it to do so. That is exactly what Pixie Lighthorse’s prayers do (as does the Yoga Church podcast). They’ve hit on every aspect of insecurity and fear that I have about putting words on the page and sharing them with others – especially the hardest part for me: getting started. A particular favorite prayer of mine is “Honoring Creation” which is located in the South section of the book. As she mentions in the “How to Use this Book” section, “Each section of prayers is aligned with the teachings of the Four Directions” which are aligned with the four seasons and four elements – for example, the first section is: “East, Season: Spring, Element: Air”. If you would like a more in-depth description of Prayers of Honoring Voice, you can read Lighthorse’s excellent description here. The really great news is that the book is available under Kindle Unlimited, so if you are a subscriber, you can read it for free. However, this is one book that I want in hard copy to have right next to me while I write. I want to be able to flip through its pages whenever I need to. It is a book I know I can turn to when the fear of what I have to say, of what I need to say, takes over, and I start to shut down. I hope that it will do the same for you. These prayers are now a part of my daily writing routine, and I use them as a starting off point, as an invocation and invitation to the muse and as a reminder that I don’t have to go on this writing journey all alone.
Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark is the perfect fall read. It is the kind of book you curl up with for a weekend along with your coffee and a warm blanket. But be warned! It is hard to put down once you start reading. I finished it in two sittings. Lowcountry Bribe is a fast-paced mystery with an amazing protagonist, Carolina Slade. First, I love her name! Second, she is a great protagonist. She is not Ms. Perfect. She is flawed in her own unique ways and that is refreshing. She makes mistakes and poor judgments (as we all do) and we get to witness the consequences for the choices that she makes. Carolina Slade isn’t the only loveable character. There is also Wayne, the hunky but somewhat troubled investigator who often butts heads with Carolina Slade, and Carolina’s quirky and energetic best friend Savvy. In addition to these loveable characters, C. Hope Clark gives us plenty of unlikeable and suspicious characters, enough to make us wonder who the guilty party really is all the way until the end.
Besides the great cast of characters, I also loved the fast pace of Lowcountry Bribe and how C. Hope Clark ended each chapter in such a way that it was nearly impossible to put the book down without reading just…one…more…chapter. The development of the characters was done really well, too. Even though I feel like I was given a satisfactory ending to the book, I can’t wait to read the next two books in the Carolina Slade Mystery series (Tidewater Murder and Palmetto Poison) and to see where she takes the characters. And if that isn’t enough, C. Hope Clark has a new mystery series, The Edisto Island Mysteries, and has just released the first book, Murder on Edisto.
A Fantastic Find!
I wrote a proposal for funding and other support to start a writing group last month, but my proposal was rejected for reasons that are complicated but completely understandable. However, that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. I had taken a lot of time to put my ideas on paper and to select the items that I wanted to purchase for each participant so that I could create a budget. It felt so good to complete the proposal and I was excited by the possibilities. It was a major letdown to not be able to move forward with my plans.
A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine who had read some of my memoir pieces and she mentioned that she had always wanted to write down her life experiences but didn’t really know where to start or how to do it. Her son was leaving for college and I wanted to get her a gift that would help fill the gap that her son moving away would leave. Then something clicked in my mind. A journal! Now that would be the perfect gift. She would have the time to write and I could provide her with the tools necessary to do so. I ordered The Spirit of Flight journal and a Pentel Arts Slicci metallic pen with violet ink. She loved it!
After she received her new journal I noticed something extraordinary. I would be having a conversation with someone and a little voice would say, “She needs a journal!” And so I began sending these journals as special gifts to women who are important in my life. As I sit here, I imagine us all filling blank journal pages with our life experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, and adventures and our collective empowerment being sent out into the universe. At the beginning of Leslea Newman’s book Write from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write there is a quote by Muriel Rukeyser: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I want to help make that happen! I want to begin a journal revolution. Won’t you help me? Listen to those you talk with. Listen to the small voice when it tells you: “This woman needs a journal, a gift, a safe place to split her world wide open.”
If you decide to join the revolution and send a journal to a woman you know (or one you don’t) come back here and leave a comment. I would love to hear about it!