Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Trudging Merrily Along

iStock_000015967475XSmallThe rush of taking on the challenge of writing 50 thousand words in 30 days has grown weak, or maybe I should say week as in the beginning of week two. All the experts, the writers who have done this challenge more than once and made it to the finish line, or not  will tell you that week two is a bear. Of course, when I read those cautionary tales, I was certain that they were not addressing me, because I was too busy enjoying the high of telling all my friends, at least the ones that would listen, that I was going to take on this challenge and make it to the finish. Then I would humbly add, that I was sure I would learn a lot. Oh cringe!

Week one was nothing short of committed, inspired and focused. Week two has been kicking my little yaya sideways with a leathery old boot that magically talks to me.  It says:
1. You are flying by the seat of your pants, here.
2. You do not know what you want to say.
3. This is crap
4. What was I thinking?!

I am also assured by the experts, that if I can hang in there with week two, week three holds all kinds of new promises and joys. Cranking out 1,700 words at a time is not the least bit daunting. Cranking out 1,700 words per day in order to keep up and have all of those words be part of the same story relates to item number four: What was I thinking!!!!!

I am happy though. I spent most of the day in my pajamas, thinking about my characters, writing and knowing that I wasn’t writing my greatest stuff but I was going to stick with it any way, and who knew I could write this much? For anyone who is a perfectionist (you can all put your hands down now) all of your perfectionist issues arise on the NaNoWriMo and slap your face multiple times.  Meanwhile,  you still attempt to give yourself permission to do what Natalie Goldberg told you to give yourself permission to do on the original rule list of “Writing Down the Bones,” and that is to write the worst junk in the world.

Even though week two of the NaNoWriMo is similar to what I believe Dante was describing about hell’s inner circles, I am still glad I took on the challenge and am still going strong, albeit slightly bruised.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A La Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember—my first class with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, how she did timed writing and sang Natalie Goldberg’s praises. We wrote for 10 minutes in notebooks in a day before laptops were part of the college scene in a day before the inanity of Facebook and Tweeting. We were a small rag-tag bunch of wanna-be writers who huddled in cold classrooms, four or six of us at a time, accountable to one another for our participation in classes so small that if someone dropped out of the dialogue, there was a lull and we all jumped down their throat for it later.

We spent Friday evenings at Penny Lane, chain smoking and drinking coffee, notebooks in front of us. We applauded for the people that got up and read their poetry, offering support while scrutinizing the words and how they were strung together.

When I was graduated, Bobbie Louise gave me a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription, “I expect great things from you.” I lost contact with her when life intervened. I interviewed Allen Ginsberg before he died for a small paper in Aspen. I wrote a couple of short stories for the Aspen Writer’s conference and then I went about the business of being a wife and nesting, coming eventually to partner my husband in business. I felt like I had let Bobbie Louise down. There were no great things coming from me.

I continued to keep spiral notebooks of writing but after awhile the writing became less and less.

Somewhere near the intersection of 60 and holy crap, I rediscovered the me that sat at Penny Lane listening to poetry; the me that went to student films at the art center and I pulled out those spiral notebooks only to discover that I had actually written a lot more than I thought in the years when I wasn’t writing. I began again in earnest. Timed Writing, new Natalie Goldberg books because now she had been writing about and teaching writing for 20 years. And I started giving away what was in my heart. That was a big part of my education at Naropa: community service with whatever you talent skill or ability was. So I started teaching creative writing in the jail at Jefferson County where I discovered that you couldn’t help anyone.

I remember learning that you can inspire and cajole. You can suggest and teach, but ultimately whether or not someone takes your help is on them and you are not part of that story. There was a young woman—Jessica. She had spent a year at Jeffco jail for meth use. She had energy and enthusiasm and I thought I could help her. I wanted to help her. I set up contacts at Naropa for her to call when she got out. I emailed Natalie Goldberg and told her about my student and Natalie arranged for a scholarship to a writer’s workshop. When I knew Jessica was getting out, I gave her a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription similar to Bobbie’s.

She never called anyone and three months later she was back at Jeffco. Naropa had become a place for trust fund babies and gone were the days of starving student writers who wore their angst like proud badges of courage. Jessica may never have found any comfort there.

I remember that I write because I love it. Sometimes I remember that it’s a discipline and other times I remember that it is a compelling inspiration. Still other times I remember that it is the doorway into my examined life, a painting with words that portrays who I have been, who I am and who I am still becoming.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Blogging Practice

Women's Voices - Natalie Goldberg (55)
Women’s Voices – Natalie Goldberg

The new Natalie Goldberg book arrived from Amazon yesterday. Before the sun came up, I made a cup of tea and crawled back into bed to begin reading. An excerpt from a letter appears early on in the book: a man was sitting with his Zen teacher and the teacher says “you know what’s wrong with you?” The ultimate question from the teacher, thought the man edging forward to catch the answer. “You need to write.”

That was it, “you need to write.” I learned that recently, the way that I learn so many things—the hard way. I had returned to writing practice a couple of years ago when I began teaching creative writing to women in jail. I returned to writing practice because teaching is a lot like being a minister. If you are going to minister to someone it’s helpful to have a prayer practice. If you are going to teach creative writing, it’s helpful to have a writing practice. So I began to keep journals of free hand, timed writing and that led to my purchase of a lap top where I could write faster, longer and that in turn, led to my first blog.

I do not write everyday. I write most days. Some mornings, I wake up a little too late to organize my day and head to the office. But the days that I get up early and make that cup of sweet, black tea and come back to bed with books and laptop—those are the best days. Recently, one of my businesses got an infusion of investment capital. With that came obligations, demands and responsibilities that pulled and tugged at me in such a way that I thought, I would need to give up everything to make this business work. I stopped teaching at the jail. I stopped doing my newsletter. I stopped doing my blog and I fell into a deep sorrow, tinged with the exhaustion of regret.

You know what’s wrong with you? You need to write! It took a couple of months and several false starts to realize that what I had been teaching my students, what I had been studying was mine to learn. Writing practice for me is dropping into silence to look into a mirror; a place where in my notebooks I can say it all; where the idea is to go deeper into a self that I am always discovering. By giving that up to make a business work, I created a spiritual aridity that was suffocating.

One of my last blog posts before I took down the site and shuttered myself into business mode was a sad piece about a sad moment. It was raw and real and in retrospect, embarrassing. It was an epiphany for me to realize that I was embarrassed by the sorrows of my life, and yet I know that creativity springs from darkness, from suffering, from the acceptance of all those things– and that brings forth expression. How do you know the light if you do not know what the darkness is?  Coming face to face with what is in the shadows is not always an easy process and yet it seems to be the ghosts lurking there that are tied to ones liberation.

A couple false starts and some determination to find balance through the tears, led me back to writing practice and a new blog. I write because it is my way. Like other writers, I dream of writing a book or two.  Each of us in each day are writing the book of our life, whether we put it down on a page or not.  I am blessed with the literacy to do so and I think most writers feel that way–that the love of reading and writing is a powerful blessing to which we pay homage.  And there is something wonderful about blogging, because it is its own strange little cyber community—like having a writing group where you share your stuff all the time and you know that somebody is listening. But mostly I write because it is a doorway into what Plato called “the examined life.”  It is the place where I sort out who I am and how I feel about and experience the world.  Oh and by the way, the business is doing fine.  Not one of my investors has told me to stop writing and focus more on the business.  It’s funny that I thought I would have to give up so much…by keeping a writing practice I actually feel more equipped to meet the demands of my growing company, and the bottom line is, it makes me happy.

So my question to the fellow bloggers is this:  How is it that you came to write? Why do you keep hitting the publish button and putting it out there?