Baby Steps Towards a Book

Will I ever write a book?

I don’t know.

The question is never not with me, a double negative if ever there was one.

I live with it, or rather, it lives with me. It comes with me to the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth in the morning. It comes along to the grocery store, the gym, the synagogue, the bookstore. Oh, yes, especially the bookstore. It sleeps naked in my dreams and gives guided tours through houses I’m sure I’ve seen before. It gazes out the window at the late-day light.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I think: Maybe it will be easy. I imagine sitting down, starting, and finishing a completed draft in a matter of days. It’s an extreme vision, perhaps. You could say it’s unlikely, that’s not how it works. And you’d probably be right. But I’m not here to talk about what’s likely or sound. I’m here to tell you about the things that move across the sky inside my mind, like so many clouds.

Sometimes, I think: I can’t. I have ruined myself by writing so many small pieces. I don’t know how to sustain a longer narrative. What if I simply don’t have what it takes?

I hear these thoughts and questions and recognize their genus and species: Fear.

It’s always an option to hang out there, you know. You can stay in fear, where it’s safe, where you get to hem and haw and doubt your abilities and worry about how it will go.

What is the fear, really? What is the worst thing that will happen if you sit down and really begin? That you won’t keep going, thus setting yourself up for disappointment and failure? That you will keep going and it will be hard? It will be hard.

But not harder than this place of waiting and wondering.

I often tell clients, you don’t decide to run a marathon and then win a marathon the next day. In fact, it will be many months, years even, of slow and steady training. Maybe you’ll decide it doesn’t actually matter to you to complete a marathon, and that it is ok to be a person who enjoys walking. Maybe you will learn how to sink into the pleasure of being alive without having to be more than you already are.

Or maybe you will say, no, damnit. I want this. And then you will have to build up to it. You will start small. You will probably seek out support and resources and some way of staying accountable. You might consult with some folks who’ve gone the whole distance. What do they wish they had known before that they know now? You will have to sift through all of that outside input to figure out what works for you — your body, your life, your schedule, your work and family obligations.

Writing a book — writing anything, really — is not so different.

You will not sit down and write a Pulitzer-prize winning book in one sitting. But you also won’t write any book, without sitting down, on a regular basis, and plugging away.

I think about writing a memoir about my Jewish journey. I also am not convinced it’s time yet. I have just signed up for a 15-month adult b’nai mitzvah class at my synagogue. A group of us will meet with our rabbi for two hours one Sunday a month to learn and study and prepare for this rite of passage that traditionally occurs at age 13. But, as my son said this morning after services, “You didn’t even know you were Jewish yet.” This is true, and I wonder if it’s one of the stories I have to tell.

It has occurred to me to use the 15-month period as a way of tracking my learning and perhaps starting to fill in some of the “chapters” of my unfolding identity. The fear is that it is too big of a topic. There is a difference between an autobiography and memoir, and I do not want to write the former.

There’s a subtle difference — so subtle as to be energetic — between lying to oneself (i.e. I’m not ready) and truly tuning into what time it is in one’s own life. My intuition is that it’s not time for the book yet, and this demands that I check in to see if I’m letting fear drive the bus.

I’ll be sitting with this in the months to come.

It is also perfectly ok and honorable to be a writer who doesn’t write a book. A book is not the holy grail of the writing life. There are many ways to be a writer. I’d say a very large percentage of folks I work with and who participate in my groups and retreats struggle with claiming the title of “writer.” When I say, a writer is a person who writes, I mean it. Not every writer is a professional writer, a published writer, a money-making writer, a household name. In fact, the vast majority of us are none of the above.

The house is quiet, except for Chalupa’s snoring. I look over at the books on the shelf. I have self-published three books. And yet I still ask: Will I write a book? Clearly, there is a kind of book I have not written. There might be several. Time will tell.

What I want, more than anything, is to feel connected to myself and to others. To find form for what lives in me and yearns for a worldly shape. Stories, for me, and yes, books, are one of those recognizable shapes — a way of literally holding, and offering to others, one’s lived experience — and also of letting it go.

Baby steps might not seem very sexy, but they are the only way to begin, just as practice and commitment and a hefty dose of self-compassion are good ways to keep going once you do.

Don’t wait to believe it. Take some action and let the faith follow.

Bittersweet


Three years ago, I started a membership group called Get Your Muse On. At its peak, it had about 40 members who actively shared weekly intentions, freewrites, and other creative shenanigans. Friendships blossomed, confidence deepened, and many a birthday limerick has been shared.

After a few different incarnatons, I made a decision this week to officially retire this group. I closed its doors to new members quite a while back, and those who remain are close-knit and committed to staying connected. But the participation and engagement aren’t what they were and rather than trying to return to something that had its day, letting it simply be what it is — a sweet gathering place for friends who love writing — seemed like the next right step.

But letting go and allowing change to happen is not easy for me. I suspect this is true for many of us. It’s bittersweet, maybe a little scary even, to acknowledge that a thing has run its course.

As we move towards the solstice and new year, I’m feeling this energy so intensely. I’ve heard from more than one person in the past few days that they are feeling exhausted, moody, tapped out. The holiday season can drain our wallets and our spirits, as much as it’s supposed to fill our hearts with joy and sugarplums.

I was chatting with a teacher of Pearl’s last night about her holiday plans. She said her grown kids have very different food preferences, so she didn’t yet know what kind of meal she might prepare on Christmas day with them. I said something about images of families sitting down to eat, everyone at a table — how images like that can be so… she finished my sentence for me: Oppressive.

Yes. Images like that invariably make us feel like we’re failing at something, when in fact we are actually living real lives, where not everyone wants to or can eat the same things, where not everyone wants to or can be at the table, where not everything is happy and bright.

Groups like the Muses are havens from these expectations. As I write this, I realize that this is true of all of my work — the writing groups, the coaching, even working with folks on books. Having room to show up as we are, to write without worrying about being good, to say what’s really going on in our lives and hearts, to name what really happened in the past, all of this is how we get free to take up more space in the world and ultimately share more of ourselves.

More of ourselves, please. The world tells us a lot of things. The world tells us a lot of things about what being a writer is supposed to look like.

I got a(nother) rejection yesterday. It’s an essay I wrote a year ago and originally submitted to the New York Times Modern Love column with a wish and a prayer and not-so-secret high hopes that this would be the One.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. It was one of many. After the NYT rejected it, I kept sending it out. So far, not even a nibble. There’s a high probability I will choose to post it here and on my blog. That’s my way. That’s what I mean when I say “keep going.”

The end goal is not a perfect meal, a Rockwell painting, a slam dunk, a bullseye, or bragging rights. The end goal is to be here, to live fully, to take risks, to show up, to listen hard, to love well.

Last night, Pearl was awake with a tummy bug (he’s currently finally sleeping on the couch next to me). At one point, hoping he’d be able to rest, I told him to try counting his breaths, from one to ten. “If you lose count, go back to one,” I said.

I’m always going back to one. I had a zen teacher at one point who wrote about this, and it’s true. We’re always trying to get somewhere else.

So I’m letting the Muses group go as an “official” group. I’m making room, without having to rush in to fill it. I’m honoring the relationships I’ve come to cherish and know will endure, without clinging to the past.

Change happens. Stomach bugs happen. Rejection happens. Real life happens. And the writing? It happens, too, in the context of all of this. The minute we stop trying to get it right, the minute we start believing who and where we are is good enough, so much opens up. Room to breathe opens up. Trust might even make a guest appearance.

Back to one. Everybody now. And as for the Muses? You know who you are, and I love you all 4-ev-uh.

TRUTH: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

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The Back Story

I recently announced a new offering. It was going to be a year-long group based on a small but mighty book, “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words,” by the Scottish poet David Whyte. But I ran into an unexpected snafu: His publishing company contacted me, kindly telling me that my offering stood in violation of their “no commercial use” policy. I apologized and removed the web page.

(Cue agonizing over what to do.)

I didn’t want to just slap something together, but I was also reluctant to let it go. I slept on it, then slept on it some more, trying to strike the balance between playing with ideas while knowing you cannot just coax the muse on demand.

Then a coaching session with a client who had signed up for that original group brought some clarity. When Nukhet asked me if I had decided whether to offer an alternative. I told her I was wrestling with — and probably overthinking — it.

“Everyone’s lives are so full,” I said.

Her response was so perfect.

“I disagree. I think people’s lives are often so full… of stuff. But not necessarily fulfilling.”

And that’s when I told her the phrase that had come to me as I was drifting off to sleep last night: One True Thing.

But that is the name of an Anna Quindlen novel! And I didn’t want to run into anymore unexpected copyright issues, thank you very much.

Which is how I landed on this: Truth. Simple as that.

Because that is what we do in my groups: We show up and explore what’s true. We do not need the work of a brilliant poet and philosopher to guide this practice. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

And while I would have loved to use Consolations with its 52 everyday words as an anchor for this year-long group, what I realized this morning is that the essence of the group can remain: Exploring what’s true and meaningful, week after week, in our everyday lives. Exploring our values: What they are, what they’re not, and how they show up (or not).

This is work I’ve been doing with folks for 15 years. This is work I can claim as my own — and that I would love to share with you. In fact, I’ve considered offering a values-based group in the past, but never quite found the right structure.

One door closes, another opens.

What’s true for you may not be true for me. The beauty of this practice is that we can explore what’s true for us in any given moment, week after week, without self-judgment. The intention of the group will be one of witness, not debate, thus creating a truly spacious container for showing up and seeing what it’s like to be more fully awake to our true selves.

The true things in our days are often small, unremarkable. Not only that, but so often we say we want a regular writing practice, but then don’t follow through because it becomes yet another thing to keep up with.

What if it could be so simple?

What if once a week, for a year, you could notice when you were being really… yourself. Really… present. Really… true?

One word per week.

There are many splashy January offerings out there.

Instead of making resolutions and bending under the soul-killing pressure to strive harder, be better, do more, to grow, to change, join me for a slower, more spacious practice, of rooting more deeply into what’s already true.

HOW IT WILL WORK

A Weekly Invitation

For 52 weeks, we will explore what’s really true for us in our days, with each week centering on a particular “values” word.

  • Each Monday morning, you will receive an email from me with that week’s word, along with an image and gentle invitation to explore your relationship to it and one true way it shows up for you during the week. “Tell me the truth about…” is how we will begin each new week.
  • In addition, I will  post each week’s word in a secret Facebook group, sometimes along with a related poem or piece of writing.
  • The invitation will be to explore each week’s word in whatever way feels easy and right to you that week. You might choose to do a 10-minute timed, unedited freewrite, write a haiku each day, or make a collage inspired by what the word evokes. You might have a strong response to one week’s word while not feeling any particular connection to another’s. You might use the practice to really challenge your assumptions. You might write your own definition. You might tell a story, unearth a memory, or simply notice how and where that word shows up in your everyday interactions. The idea is to let the word be a guide inward, a gateway, to one true thing each week.
  • You may share your reflections, writings, photos, poems, and responses in any form throughout the week. Sharing in the group is entirely optional. It’s also fine to simply participate quietly; the choice is yours and may shift throughout the year.

A Year-Long Practice: January 1-December 31, 2019

  • Because we will be moving through 52 specific words together, participants are asked to commit to a year of participation.
  • A year sounds like a LONG TIME. In some ways, it is. Every single day is a life, after all. I am also intensely curious about what happens when we start something and stay with it, watching our own ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys — and each other’s — with more compassion and curiosity and less self-judgment, fear, and doubt.
  • Some weeks we will be all in, some weeks we will check out. What we will discover is community, connection, and more space to show up in the context of our real lives as conditions in and around us change and unfold.
  • Participation in the Facebook group is OPTIONAL.
  • There will be no attendance taking or critique, nor an expectation of reading and commenting on everyone’s posts. This practice is intended to be expansive and permission-giving. How you engage with it will likely evolve over the course of the year. The idea is to stay with something — especially ourselves — over time, and see what happens without attachment to outcome.

About the Words

Since 2003, when I hung my first coaching shingle and began working with private clients, I’ve been using the same list of “values” words as a starting point for our work. With some thoughtful tweaking, I’ve reshaped this list into one that will guide us through the year. From “accomplishment” to “trust,” these are all words that show up in all of our lives in some form or another. Each presents an opportunity to explore what’s true for us, how we have changed, and who we’re becoming. Each presents an opportunity to be more awake and alive.

Cost + Registration

Cost: $9/week

Think of it as us meeting for lattes each week to talk about words and life and everything from ambition to destiny to heartbreak to procrastination to self-knowledge.

Get Your Seat

To register: Pay in 12 monthly installments of $36.


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Be An Angel

We live in a culture where people who cannot afford to allocate $36 each month towards a creative practice such as “Truth” live in the margins and shadows. Since of my own core values is justice, it’s important to me not only to name this, but to create and offer concrete opportunities wherever and whenever possible to address and dismantle this disparity.

Those with higher degrees of economic security are much more likely to be able to participate in groups such as this one. If you are living check to check or working three jobs or single parenting or have medical bills or are helping to support other family members, this might be out of reach.

My Big Audacious Goal is to offer 50 scholarships for this group. If you have the financially ability to spare between $36 and $360/month for a year, please consider sponsoring between one and ten participants for this year-long exploration. One-hundred percent of your contribution will go to scholarships.

Community is where change happens. Thank you for being part of it.

Payment Options
Sponsor one spot : $36.00 USD – monthly
2 spots : $72.00 USD – monthly
3 spots : $108.00 USD – monthly
4 spots : $144.00 USD – monthly
5 spots : $180.00 USD – monthly
6 spots : $216.00 USD – monthly
7 spots : $252.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $288.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $324.00 USD – monthly
10 spots : $360.00 USD – monthly

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Special Add-On: Your Personal Values Inventory Session

An in-depth private session, where we discuss in detail your personal values, how you know when they’re being honored, and what changes you can and want to make in your everyday life to feel more like your true self in the world.

The session lasts 60-90 minutes and will leave you not only more connected to what’s most important to you, but with an actionable plan for putting that knowledge into motion.

The regular cost of this is $360, but members of this group pay just $200.

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Let Go a Little (Then a Lot, Then All the Way)

If you told my 35-year-old self, in 10 years, as you approach turning 45, you’ll be happily married to a fabulous woman, making a living through writing and coaching and being yourself, and watching your kids become young adults before your very eyes, what would she say?*

I bet she’d be intrigued, excited, relieved, and a good deal terrified, knowing some big shit awaited her but also that somehow she’d get through it intact.

So maybe, today, my future self can come visit me and say:

Sweetie, you’re good. You’re learning the same lesson over and over again, which is not to be so hard on yourself.

No matter what you do or feel, your life is unfolding in just the way it needs to. You don’t have to push or force or worry so much about everything. Things are more solid than you realize.

Best thing you can do is be fully in it, love who you are now, not who you used to be, not who you’re becoming. Just you in this moment.

You with the happy light on the last day of November.

You with the real cream in your coffee and the 10 pounds you gained since you quit smoking three years ago (good job!).

You with the body you have today, the fitness level you have today, the income you have today, the relationships you have today, the fears you have today, the ideas you have (or don’t have) today, the kids you have today, the home you have today.

Let it all be ok. Let it be and you’ll see, I know you’ll see. You are doing everything right. You don’t have to walk such a tightrope act to maintain things.

Let go a little and then a little more and then a lot and maybe for a moment let go all the way and let yourself fall and fall and see what it’s like to be held by that wide open space.

* inspired in part by this piece

Creativity is Messy: Questions to Explore When You’re Being Harsh with Yourself

I started a brand new day with pouring rain, strong coffee, snoring doggy, and final edits on an essay by a fierce mama who’s submitting three chapters from her book-in-progress to a screenwriting contest.

Last week, I had two different conversations with two very different clients, one on the east coast and one on the west. Women with wildly different backgrounds and temperaments and ways of being in the world, but who share one thing in common: writing. Each has a story to tell, which is really many stories. And so the questions that arise are in many ways universal. What to include? How to shape and structure things? What to write next? When to edit and when to generate and simply get more words on the page?

Underlying these questions is something even more universal, I’d argue: Their relationship to themselves.

How we treat the creative process can be a mirror to how we treat ourselves more generally.

Are we patient and kind, or unyielding in our harsh expectations? Does judgment override curiosity, or can we bring a sense of inquiry to our own work?

Binary thinking doesn’t serve us. In this (or any) context, an all or nothing, either/or approach is not useful. As humans, we’re inevitably going to bring many thoughts and feelings to any table. The question, I suppose, is in how we can regard these — especially when there is inner turmoil or conflict — with some gentleness.

For example:

This —

“Oh my god, I should just give up. This is a mess. I am never going to figure out how to make this a book.”

becomes:

“Oh my god, I am overwhelmed. I forgot that writing a book is inherently a messy process because I got seduced by holding those beautiful, completed, best sellers in my hands and forgetting what went into making them in the first place. How can I step back for a moment to remember what I’m up to and regroup before deciding on my next move?”

Questions to explore:

* Writing, activism, parenting, creativity — what are the common denominators?

* Is how you do one thing how you do all the things, or does different wisdom apply to different parts of yourself and your life?

* How do your expectations shapeshift when it comes to your writing?

* Where can you soften up a little?

* Is toughening up sometimes necessary?

* What is one thing you can say to yourself, as a reminder to come back from that harsh voice?

Could you use some help?

The essence of coaching with me is exactly this — making room for these kinds of questions, so that you can not only start doing your work, but so that you also keep going when it gets mucky and messy. Learn more or just contact me to set up an exploratory conversation!