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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Adam Writes: A True Story

Well, that was fun to make!

Come enjoy the video and sign up “Word Search,” a 10-week group that opens tomorrow and/or The Sound of Real Life Happening, which starts on September 11. Just look at how happy Adam is!

https://www.powtoon.com/embed/djJSQ0GgHRk/

Building Community, Asking for Help, and Not Burning Out

Asking for help is hard. And that’s what I’m coming here to do. I’m coming to ask for your help so that I can keep building community — without burning out.

This week, I created a Patreon account. I’ve been looking at this membership platform for a while now, as a way of leveling out my monthly income and taking a baby step away from Facebook in terms of where I share my day-to-day writing. As of this moment, I have 11 patrons.

In case you’re unfamiliar — you become a “patron” by choosing a monthly tier, and each tier comes with certain benefits. These include a PDF of 18 essays, weekly prompts, access to new poems before I share elsewhere, a weekly “ask me anything” option, discounts on my writing groups, coaching sessions ranging from 30 minutes to four hours/month, and even just-for-you writers’ care packages! Needless to say, I’m super excited about it and hope you will be, too.

I have it set up right now that my first goals there are financial — and they will allow me to offer scholarships to my groups. This is a core value of mine — making my work accessible to people regardless of how much money they have.

I grew up with things like summer camps and lessons and trips. Many kids grow up not knowing if they will have three meals that day. And while my groups are not for children, they are for adult humans whose early experiences in life shaped a good deal of what we believe we can have, what is for us.

I’ve carried a belief, that because I “chose” to be self-employed, I should suck it up that I don’t have paid time off. I’m certainly not complaining.

And, the real life version is, of course, more complicated than that, more multifaceted and layered. That’s the thing about real life — it always is. It’s also what makes for a) the best stories and b) true connection, where we’re not masking what’s true or molding ourselves to what we think others want to see, hear, and believe.

Mani’s illness thrust me into this work. It was one of those crazy moments where the scariest, hardest stuff was intextricable from the most creative and courageous. I started leading online groups and retreats while working at a full-time job, then after about nine months of that, including 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave three summers ago, it became clear that going back to the office was not an option. She needed me home full-time.

Now, she’s sitting here in the living room working away on her own stuff as I work on mine, with the puppy snoring between us. Her healing journey is hers to share, so I will not write to that here.

What I can tell you is this: I love my work, and all of you, deeply. Sitting here in my living room last night with four women, each of whom wrote and shared, I felt tears in my eyes. Creating these spaces for words, stories, poetry, connection, community, courage, realness — this is why I’m here.

And, I don’t always know how to see what I need in the midst of the work, not to mention being a mom with kids at pivotal moments in their own growing.

What became very clear to me recently was that I need a little break. My vision has been to be able to step away from Facebook in August, for most if not all of the month. To continue my in-person groups and coaching, to anticipate a fall full of online groups and new ideas, but to be able to take some time away, too, from social media.

I see Patreon as a way both of creating a sustainable Community Writers’ Fund, and also as an eventual way to open up more possibility for me to focus on my own writing. I do not have a room of my own; I literally write anywhere and everywhere, throughout the day — the kitchen, the living room, the car. I have dreams of working on new books. I hear the voices in my head that say: Well, that’s nice, you privileged white lady. How about dreams of fair immigration practices? How about dreams of restorative justice for communities of color?

And I know — these are not mutually exclusive. To care deeply about justice doesn’t mean denying my own creativity and humanity. My deepest hope is that the two are connected, all the way at the roots. Also, I know an inner critic when I hear one.

I share all of us with so much gratitude. It is because of you that this work has become a thing. It is because of you I’ve kept going and not, in my frequent moments of fear and doubt, thrown in the towel and dusted off my resume. It is because of your encouragement that I feel safe to share all of this with you.

Asking for help is hard.

I learned that when Mani was sick.

It’s also one of the realest things there is.

So, I’m asking.

Will you help me take a break this August?

My intention is to come back strong in September, to start again, and most important, to keep going. With all of it. Because that’s what we do. We keep starting, again and again, we keep going. And we also acknowledge that we are not machines, but humans.

Join me on Patreon, at whatever monthly tier feels good to you: www.patreon.com/jenaschwartz.

And/or: Send a one-time donation, simply because you appreciate what I share here and this is a tangible way to help one self-employed mama not burn out: www.paypal.me/jenaschwartz.

For reading this far, for being on the other side of the words, for making it safe to be this honest and vulnerable, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Writing Saves Lives

Photo: Joey Yu

Writing saves lives.

Alone time saves lives.

Connecting saves lives.

Community saves lives.

Permission to be a mess saves lives.

Space to be really honest saves lives.

Not calling the police when people are minding their own business saves lives.

Doing your own inner work saves lives.

Saying “I love you” saves lives.

Saying “I’m sorry” saves lives.

Moral courage saves lives.

Righteous action saves lives.

Art saves lives.

I believe we’re always saving each other, often without knowing it.

As it’s written in the Talmud: “Whoever saves one life, it is as if they have saved the whole world.”

Has someone saved your life lately? Write them a note. Say thank you. Tell them the story. Pay it forward.