“There are days we live”

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

— Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms”

There are days we live

we live the days the days pass us by we pass each other by we pass by windows we pass through doors we pass through moods we pass the salt we don’t eat meals together we pass the kids’ stuff back and forth we pass gas we let it all hang out.

We pass by roadside vegetable stands

where asparagus is called Hadley Grass where flowers so full they’re verging on obscenity hang from rusty hooks we pass through countryside landscapes windows down tobacco barns and storm clouds and air thick with impossible weight of all the grief we’ve not let bury our joy we pass over into joy.

We pass riverbanks we pass school playgrounds

old cemeteries and painted window boxes we pass stop signs and hospitals and we pass through all the times we wanted to lash out at life we pass karma and the smiling faces of saints who walk among us we pass the homeless woman who stand in the median on Route 9 her skin darker by the day we imagine track marks on her arms, withdrawal or overdose we pass her a dollar or three we pass the ATM to get cash.

We pass streams of ancient chants

we pass stories we pass saliva we pass hope we pass patience we pass it along we pass it back we are impossible we are here being and what I want to say is

What makes you blossom?

What I want to ask is

How can you think anything is impossible?

What I need to hear is it is really ok

to stumble to forget a peach to miscount to miscalculate to fall to let go to let down to stop smiling to stop striving to stop worrying to stop proving to stop stop stop. Stop.

That is the impossible and that, too, is the blossom

I long to devour. All I want is to close my eyes in the new hammock swing, to be fed cold peaches, to stop clenching my teeth, to sit back. And here is where resistance comes rearing its head up, dragon fire breathing.

I want.

I want the summer by the lake, the ocean.

I want — it feels impossible to say I want, to allow for that moment of wide-mouthed honesty. I am so tired but that is the impossible truth where words have led, where truth and blossom coexist, coffee and impossible sweetness conspire, where inspiration grows in well-tended soil.

Neglect is not a strategy.

So sit with me and

let’s watch these fields grow wild with peaches, let’s pick them slice them bake them devour life devour these days not let them pass us by unnoticed.

If I’m tired, let me rest.

I am to here to serve, please keep showing me how.

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting Fiction

chandelierAre you tired of your own stories? Keep writing about the same stuff? I get it! But guess what?

It’s All Made Up

One of the stories I tell about myself is that I suck at fiction writing.*

But from time to time, I do it anyway. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s freeing. It’s intriguing.

Whether you suck at fiction writing or just want an infusion of prompted inspiration and the camaraderie of a small group of readers, this new group’s just for you.

JOIN ME FOR three weeks of freewriting fiction.

Before I get into the details, let me tell you the back story.

***

“Want to go to an open house?” Aviva had just hopped in the car after an appointment one Saturday morning. We sat in the idling car not a block away from the realty sign that had caught my eye. “Ummmm, sure?”

We turned onto Sparrow Road and saw the “For Sale” sign about halfway down the dead-end street. It was a pale pink Victorian with white trim. As we reached the front door, a disembodied male voice called us to come inside.

“Hi, I’m Ross,” said the lanky realtor, who gestured first toward himself and then at the living room, as if introducing an invisible friend at his side. A vase of long-stemmed red tulips on a side table by the bay windows caught my eye. I introduced myself and my daughter as he handed us an info sheet. Though I’m not in a position to buy a house at the moment, somehow it didn’t feel entirely fake to be there. Well, ok, maybe it did. But I work my ass off, and a girl can dream.

Ross invited us to look around and said he’d be available for any questions. Aviva and I moved through the sitting room with the tulips and the crystal chandelier, then down a hallway that led to a cozy sunroom. The wood floors looked smooth and worn, like they had stories of their own to tell. Threadbare, faded cotton blankets in layers lent the south-facing daybed the appearance of a hundred-year nap. I could see myself falling asleep there like a cat.

When we stepped up into the adjoining kitchen, I think we gasped simultaneously. Holy mother of God, it was magazine-worthy: Funky, old, and rustic meets modern, hipster, and elegant. Adjoining deep porcelain sinks, exposed brick, a big attached pantry, windows overlooking the deep backyard. “If this house could talk…” I thought to myself, listening for its whispering bones as we made our way upstairs.

Four smallish bedrooms and what was clearly a new half-bath greeted us, all situated around a generous landing with a subtle slope.  Aviva and I immediately sussed out who would get which room, and I zeroed in on the smallest one in the back of the house as my Virginia Woolf space. A room of my own is among the things I miss most about owning a home with some “extra” space, and it remains high on my list of “someday” house wishes.

Mind you, I write all of this from the warmth of my kitchen in a beautifully maintained and cozy three-bedroom apartment; we have great neighbors, an awesome landlord, and more than enough room. So it’s not that I’m “complaining” as much as I’m letting my imagination of its leash. And when I do that, oh mama does she ever like to run free and sniff far. The craziest things catch her fancy, and sometimes I can’t find my special whistle that calls her home. She always comes back eventually, though.

Aviva and I completed our tour with dropped jaws — the house had a fully heated, two-story STUDIO space behind it that our accountant would love (perfect for the writing, yoga, and meditation workshops and retreats Mani and I will lead together!). We’d learned from Ross that the house was, as of that very morning, under contract. It was ridiculous that I felt disappointed, as I have neither the paperwork nor the down payment to make an offer. But rational emotions fled the scene as I looked around one last time, wistful that we’d never call this place “home.”

It took a few days before my imagination came bounding back home from her adventures. I’d been sitting around, just a tiny bit mopey maybe, working my way back to gratitude for the home we have rather than focusing on the one we don’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel  crazy thankful and amazed that we are able to pay rent here, cover our bills, and even have the ability to save, spend, and give away a little each month. The fact that my work as a promptress and writing coach afford us the ability to live in what is not an inexpensive town is a true blessing, one of the biggest of my life.

I went from bummed to inspired as I looked through the photos I’d taken during the open house.

Narrow closets covered in peeling wallpaper.
A single old-fashioned shoe, left behind.
The blur of exposed brick.
A circle of tree stumps.
An old cupboard.
A rusty letterbox.

Anything could happen in these rooms.

These fragments from fake house hunting could call anyone’s imagination in so many different directions — which is why I decided to use them for a brand new writing group. Because creating fictional stories sounds like way more fun than wanting what we don’t have or getting stuck telling the same stories we already know inside out.

Doesn’t it?

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting fiction

A three-week online writing group for people who love fiction and a) are totally intimidated by writing it and/or b) could use an infusion of inspiration and good company on your writing journey.

WHAT WILL WE WRITE ABOUT? 

I have no idea. Anything could happen! That is kind of the point.

Through a combination of guided freewriting and other creative exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’ll try our hands at freewriting fiction three times a week for three weeks. Working with a trusty timer (10 minutes per freewrite) and evocative visual prompts, we’ll let our imaginations take the lead, running roughshod over our well-worn true stories and introducing us to moments, characters, and incidents we never before dreamed up, much less wrote down.

*What if I suck at it?

Sucking will not only be acceptable in this group; we will CELEBRATE SUCKING. The goal will be to loosen up the reigns and make some shit up, without worrying about submitting and publishing, without stressing about who’s better than us, and with good cheer and great fun.

group participation

There will be TWO sections of this group, each limited to TWELVE participants. These groups will be top-secret, so you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing what goes on in that wild imagination of yours. Participation is optional, but it’s also super fun so I hope you’ll go for it.

will i get feedback?

Yes and no. We won’t be focused on craft so much as generous reflection and encouraging comments on each other’s forays into made-up scenes and scenarios. That said, if you find that you want feedback on a specific aspect of any of your writing, you are welcome to ask for it.

DATES:

Monday, November 14 — Friday, December 2

COST:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, I’m once again offering three different (confidential) payment tiers, based completely on the honor system. Please choose according to an honest self-assessment:

  • Tier 1: Folks who have to scrimp, squirrel, and save to participate in this kind of group.
  • Tier 2: Anyone who’s moderately comfortable and has some disposable income.
  • Tier 3: Those of you who have the ability and desire to pay it forward.

:: $63 ::
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:: $126 ::
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:: $189 ::btn_buynow_lg
We are going to have so much fun in these groups. Join me!

Severing

axSevering. Cutting the cord. Boundaries. Mother’s milk. Hand on my back. Opening my mouth. Cord snaking out, sticky and thick and unending, an infinite belly coil I keep pulling on, years and years and a recurring dream of not being able to cut it — the more I try, the more it becomes something like glue, impossible and uncooperative, stretching from and gumming up the sharp blade. I am trying too hard, I am waking up sweating and tired of being sorry, I am scrambling on eroding ground, watching it crumble. And then, later, walking — I am walking down and then up a hill, feet on earth, voice out loud, begin here, and here, and this is enough for today I tell myself, until later, so much later in the car the throat constricts and chest crushes and suddenly I’m sobbing and remembering this dream after so long a reprieve, and it smells like the teen spirit I swallowed and spit out, it sounds like all the horses running towards me at once, it feels like crowded, hands in front of me, palms facing out in a gesture of give me space, please I need space. And I am aware in this moment of the impulse to rush through the feelings, the way sometimes you want to rush to climax and the rushing runs interference with the desired outcome which is to say what it is about, when really this experience, these feelings in the body are not about — they are not linear or narrative or logical or cognitive, no, they are storms, they are electricity and power surges and powerlessness and where where is the ground, where is the voice, what do I want, who am I, where was I, what am I afraid of losing, what was lost already so many times over and can’t be retrieved? There will be no words until I can give this its full expression, give over to it, give into the walls closing in knowing that when they fall I will be standing here solid under sky without explanation or proof of purchase. All of this is to say the severing dream came back to me, floated into my mind casually, like, no big deal, just coming to say hello, it’s been so long how are you? Why are you here, I asked, and the dream — though I was awake now, and driving — said, to tell you what I was about all those years. And now I am a baby and the cord is cut and I am on my own but held and loved and now I am an adult and I am on my own holding my own and loved in new ways, chosen ways, ways that remind me to be a big girl now, a grown woman, strong enough to know that I don’t have to put myself through the same thing over and over that is so long ago now done and gone.

Use your voice, love your way, and don’t be afraid, love. Don’t be afraid.

Too Cold for Ice Cream, Just Right for Writing

flavors

I saw this the other night while getting ice cream with Aviva, and it captures *exactly* how I feel about my website menu. Not all the groups are offered all the time!

So what IS currently on the menu?

If you’re itching to write and could use the encouragement and camaraderie of a supportive space to both hush your inner critic and keep you accountable to showing up, here are what scoops are available in the next two months. It might be getting chilly for ice cream, but it’s a perfect time of year to get your writing on.

1. Between the Sheets: Write Your Stories of Desire, Intimacy, and Pleasure
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Delicious choice.

This is a 2-week group I’m co-leading with my Inky Path partner, Cigdem Kobu. The theme has to do with stories of desire, intimacy, and pleasure — but like all prompts, they will take people in many directions. This group starts (and registration ends) TODAY! As in ALL of my groups: The writing is completely confidential, and the vibe is supportive and completely judgement-free. It’s $99.

inkypath.com/between-the-sheets-guided

2. On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s)
A new, experimental flavor, combining the tried-and-true tradition of writing prompts with swirls of exploring our identities, inside and out.

This group starts Monday, September 19 and ends Monday, October 10. Prompts will be 3 days/week, and all relate in some way to the many “parts” of ourselves, how the world sees us, what we’ve abandoned and what we want to reclaim or change. I’m super excited about it and would be so so thrilled for you all to join me. There are 3 payment “tiers” — $63, $126, and $189 — on a kind of honor system.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/on-the-corner-writing-at-the-intersections

4. What If You Knew?
A classic flavor that will whet your appetite for more. Writing, that is.

My next 2-week group, with the original 10 prompts I ever wrote. I’m offering this one again as a kind of 2-year anniversary of promptressing and doing this work in the world. If you’re looking to begin, deepen, or expand a writing practice, please join me October 10-21. The cost is $99, though I’m often told it’s priceless.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/2-week-writing-practice

3. Dive Into Poetry: October 1-31
If you’re like me, and want to sample everything, this might be the group for you.

A month-long poetry celebration, with 3x/week poems & images from me, to use as springboards + inspiration for your own poems! This group is straight-up great fun. No previous poetry-writing experience is required; in fact, the whole idea is to get to play. And it’s only $28.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/national-poetry-month

**

Writing together and freewriting are ways to blast through the toxicity of comparing ourselves to each other. To show up to yourself, to what’s true, to back then and to right now and to someday. To practice being good to yourself. To quiet the voices telling you “too much” and “not enough.” To see what happens when you don’t have to be good.

We’re all 32 flavors and then some.

Come have a taste. 

And how could I possibly resist wrapping this up without some Ani?

Happy Half-Birthday to Me (and a Gift for You)

Lily
I could click “share” on Facebook all day long, and feel less and less connected.

Instead, I took my bike out of the garage and rode to town. I got a taco and a $2 lottery ticket. Then I rode home. Anger, envy, sadness, missing, confusion, and love — all perched on my handlebars like a motley crew of dark companions, offset by the chirping of birds and pretty houses and flowers growing around picket fences. It wasn’t until I got to my own old yellow house that I stopped and put down the kickstand. Put down my guard and my armor and opened my eyes again. These lilies, towering amidst weeds, growing by the curb in a kind of accidental garden.

Continue reading today’s newsletter, which includes other musings as well as a special gift for you: 14% off everything on the menu until midnight July 14 (my half-birthday!).

If you don’t already receive Fierce Encouragement for Writing + Lifesubscribe here and the next one will appear in your inbox.

Thank you for showing up, in all the ways.