Writing Without the Woo

Photo: Erik Witsoe

I just shared the last greeting and invitation of the fall session with my Jewels on the Path group. Closing out 16 weeks of witnessing writing + life concurrently unfolding with a dozen women around the country leaves me… verklempt.

This week, I asked folks to share thoughts on this phrase: “I am a writer.” You’d be amazed at how many people who write are reluctant to claim this, reserve it for the “real” writers who are well-known, widely published, making money, yadda yadda.

The responses were deeply moving.

One person crossed a threshold recently, when she shared a deeply personal piece outside of our group with her wider community — and found that the reactions to her words were affirming, far-reaching, and intimate all at once.

Another shared this: “I feel more like a writer with every passing week.”

From free-range lists of 11 things to installments of memoirs-in-progress to freewrites exploring the here and now to weeks when life happened and writing did not, the courage to keep meeting the blank page, to keep going, to share and be seen, to ask for the kind of feedback that would most serve the process rather than most “improve” the writing — all of this has filled a secret Facebook group and made it into a living, breathing space of community and creativity.

Whew.

Nick Cave writes, “The artistic process seems to be mythologized quite a lot into something far greater than it actually is. It is just hard labor.”

I would tend to agree with this. When you strip away the woo, what’s left?

Sitting down, showing up, starting. I do believe in mystery, but I also believe that there is no substitute for simply doing the work. It’s where all of the learning happens. It’s where we get to challenge the things we thought about ourselves, about our writing, about our stories, about what’s possible.

To my Jewels, and to everyone who has practiced writing with me this year, thank you.

To you, friends who witness my own process of showing up and being a real life person who writes, thank you for being on the other side of the words, and for your steady kindness and encouragement.

Let’s keep being here with and for each other in 2019.

Looking for a safe haven for your writing practice and process in the new year?

There are THREE SPOTS remaining for the next session of Jewels on the Path, a 16-week intensive for female-identified and non-binary writers, beginning January 7, 2019. Come learn more or feel free to contact me with questions.

TRUTH: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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.


[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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/

POP-UP MICROSTORY GROUP: June 4-8

The first pop-up group was so much fun, we’re doing it again!

POP-UP MICROSTORY WRITING GROUP

HOW WILL IT WORK?

By keeping it super simple. Permission granted to join with zero idea what you will write. To be literal or fantastical. To see here the pen takes you when the inner critics loosen their grip.

– Monday: We will begin with a simple phrase: “I finally knew.” Everyone will write for 10 minutes whenever it’s convenient, and share in a secret group.

– Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: A new 10-minute freewrite, starting with the last sentence of the previous day’s writing.

– Friday: A closing freewrite beginning with the words: “Long story short.”

WHO SHOULD JOIN?

Anyone who wants to play with words and be part of a lively, supportive, safe atmosphere of writing without making a huge time commitment.

DATES:

June 4-8, 2018

COST:

Pay what you can. You heard me right. As a friend recently said to me about his own sliding scale policy, $10 is not too little, and $1,000 is not too much.

SIGN UP:

Sign up by sending whatever amount you choose via www.paypal.me/jenaschwartz

Masha [fiction]

“The route to truth and beauty is a toll road.” ~ Lorrie Moore

Masha gazed out the window. It was raining again, a miserable, cold, early April rain, the kind that made her feel chilled from the inside out. She glanced at her phone and sighed. No word from Max. Still. Why was he being such a dick?

She decided to draw a bath. It was mid-afternoon, and she had the place to herself for at least another three hours. As the tub filled up and steam rose from the water, she realized she’d been wearing the same clothes for three days now. She removed them in a heap by the toilet, then watched her skin turn a deep pink as she lowered herself all the way into the water.

Masha’s thoughts drifted to the “someday” she often imagined, when she had her own apartment, could burn as many candles as she liked, could play her music as loud as she liked, could come and go as she pleased. She was tired of adults poo-pooing her vision, always acting like they knew something she didn’t about real life. Real life, she had decided, would be whatever she wanted it to be.

Sunlight would stream in, illuminating the blank canvases strateched over easals in her studio. A French Press would sit on the counter, still warm to the touch. Her favorite song would play through the speakers, and Max would come through the door just as she was singing along at full volume, surprising and delighting her.

A text rudely interrupted her reverie, and Mashe scrambled to dry her hand before picking up her phone to check. Was it him? Her mom had told her to forget about him. “You deserve better,” she had said. “Someone who is actually available, not just caught up in their own drama.” She’d been furious then, just as she was when her mom warned her about the bills and pressures of living alone. “You’ll need a good job,” she was always saying, as if Masha didn’t *know* that already. Geez.

But she couldn’t help but wonder, alone in the house, if her mom was right. Maybe she did deserve better. Maybe it would be hard. Maybe, maybe… All she knew was that she had to find out, and she couldn’t do it being here. She felt trapped and stuck and like her own anger followed her like an unwanted stray animal. She honestly wanted to kick it a little, but couldn’t bring herself to be that cruel.

Anyway, it’s not like her mom knew what she was talking about. She’d gotten married at 16 and was a widow at 20. Masha was not going to follow in her footsteps, that much was for sure.

She checked the text. It was a reminder that her phone bill was past due. Damn. Where was he?

Instead of putting on the same outfit, she rolled on some deoderant and pulled some clean clothes from her dresser. She was sick of this rain, this dreary sitting around and waiting for something to happen. Forget Max, she thought. He missed his chance.

Determined to do something that mattered even though she had no idea what that meant, she grabbed an empty envelope from the small desk in the kitchen and wrote quickly: “Mom — out. Phone might die. See you later.”

She slid the elevator door open and stepped in to ride the five floors down to the lobby. Going, going, gone.