How I Spent My Summer Vacation

A Complete Blank

Do you ever get stuck in an “I can’t write” jag, where every time you sit and try to start, you sputter and stall and think “I can’t write” and give up? That’s pretty much where I’ve been for a few days now.

What’s funny is that I actually wrote plenty in August — I wrote over on Patreon, my new playground (come join me!). I wrote on Mondays at 11:00am and on Wednesdays at 6:00pm, when 2-3 women came to my living room to write with me. I wrote lists of 11 things. I wrote two poems while I was walking in Gloucester, where Mani and I spent five blissful nights.

And yet, for some reason, coming here to write a blog post has felt nearly impossible. I think I’m just putting pressure on myself. I came back to Facebook a few days ago after taking a month away, and truly felt like I’d forgotten how to do social media. I said I’d write a post about what I did on my summer vacation, and I really do want to tell you about it.

But when I try to remember, when I stop to think, ok, what is it I did and what do I want to share, I’m drawing a complete blank. It already seems like a long time ago, like a dream that was super vivid and then vanishes the minute you wake up or start telling someone about it. It’s like it gets lost in translation.

Diving In

The first week of August consisted of a daunting amount of sleep. I thought maybe I would just sleep through the entire month. I took a few epic naps — we’re talking in the three-hour range — along with early nights and lazy mornings. I read a LOT, including an incredible memoir called Maid, by Stephanie Land, which I couldn’t put down and highly recommend you preorder.

The week after that, I had a surge of energy. I felt fantastic. So fantastic that I was actually… working more. I met with a few coaching clients — in person and on the phone and via zoom, in Amherst, northern California, and Prague. I had an idea for the next Dive Into Poetry, which will be in November, and emailed all past participants to submit poems I will use as prompts. Several folks responded and I felt really jazzed about trusting myself a few months ago, when I knew I needed a break from what had become a quarterly offering.

Sure enough, taking that time without a plan allowed new ideas to arise. I also got to connect with a wonderful teenage writer, whose poetry is conquering stigmas around mental illness and recovery. I marveled at the way work kept coming in, as if to prove that Facebook is not the one and only way to connect with people. This was a big YAY.

Mid-August, Pearl and I drove to visit Aviva between camp sessions. She’d spent three weeks on an epic road trip through the south — beginning in Asheville, then onto New Orleans, and ending up in Atlanta. In each city, they visited and learned about different urban farms, while camping in local state parks, making their own meals, and discussing Jewish perspectives on environmentalism. Needless to say, she had a life-changing experience. Before spending another three weeks at camp in New York state, there was a family visiting day.

We set out in the morning — turns out Pearl is an excellent DJ, who kept us in good music all the way across 84 West. About half hour before our arrival, I got a call from the camp nurse. It was possible, she said, that Aviva may have broken her toe. We would have to scoop her up and take her to urgent care for x-rays. Approximately $500 later that I am now wrangling about with insurance, she hobbled back to camp on crutches with a sprained big toe. Seeing her was so so good — and I could feel how grounded she was after her few weeks on the road.

Then, the third week came… and I got sick. It’s as if my body was saying: “Um, helllloooooo. We thought you were taking a break?” and knocked me back onto the couch. By then, I had filed all of the papers that had been stacking up for the past month or two, cleaned the car, and taken a huge stack of books to the bookstore to trade for credit.

What began as a tickle in my throat quickly became a full-blown head cold. Mani will tell you I am a big baby when I get sick, and she heard plenty about how miserable I was. I had to cancel Week 6 of the Wednesday living room group, and we packed for our trip despite how crappy I was feeling.  Five nights near the ocean could only do a body good, right?

Right. Right, right, and right some more. Aaaaaaah.

Ocean Medicine

If you ever don’t know what you need, find a way to get to salt water.

The tiny cottage we’d found on AirBnB turned out to be pretty much perfect for the two of us. You could see the water from the little loft bedroom, with a small cove less than 1,000 steps from the sweet outdoor patio with its Buddha statue and fountain. Sitting there the first morning, drinking our coffee, I felt I’d landed in a slice of summer heaven.

Each morning, I set out on a walk and explored side streets, community gardens, cemeteries, neighborhoods, and million-dollar house-porn views. In the afternoons, we checked out a few different beaches, drove around, went to thrift stores and found some adorable items for cheap, and saw a movie at the world’s funkiest movie theater, where viewers have their pick of couches and armchairs.

We finally saw the Mr. Rogers movie and loved it. We also found our dream neighborhood in Rockport and schemed about how we will someday live near the West Coast ocean in the winter and perhaps the East Coast ocean in the summer. Girl’s gotta dream, right? I got excited about bringing the kids back to the coast for a day trip, before the High Holidays and while it’s still warm enough to jump in the water.

Chalupa stayed at her breeder’s house for the duration of our trip. We were admittedly a bit anxious about leaving her, even though we knew she’d be in bulldog-loving hands. Picking her up was *very* exciting for us all, so exciting that I got back on the Mass Pike heading west instead of east and added a full hour to our return trip.

Clusterfucks and Paddleboards

Getting home from Gloucester was a little bit of a crash course, in that there were some last-minute school-related questions to sort out for Aviva. Which is putting it mildly; truth is it felt like a complete clusterfuck on confusion and a tumble of disappointment after such a grounding summer. However, I will say this: These moments always, always come, in some form or another. And how we meet them matters.

After a few days of chaos and uncertainty, things resolved in a way that I am quite sure is for the best, and the best part was seeing my girl dig deep for her own resilience– which was right there ready.

We attended her community college orientation. She even got her official student ID, her hair in two adorable tiny vertical sprigs (it’s growing out from when she shaved it all off last spring).

The next afternoon, Pearl and I borrowed a car and headed north to our second consecutive year of family camp. He was cranky about going at first, but by bedtime in our little cabin had turned a corner and settled in. It was great to see him with the friend he’d stayed in touch with via email all of last year, reconnect with some of the people we met last summer, and meet new families. I even had my Karaoke debut!

Paddleboarding was a high point, especially the moment when Pearl and I traded boards in the lake and I lost my balance. Nothing like losing one’s balance to get a good, old-fashioned dose of humility.

The leaves were already beginning to change in New Hampshire as we drove home on the last Monday of the month. Chalupa was *very* glad to see us; finally everyone under one roof! I think Mani was happy we were back, too, in part because the doggles had a tummy bug the whole time we were gone and she’d been “on” with her round-the-clock.

School-supply shopping the next day rendered a “holy shit” moment at the total we spent, which I chalked it up to new beginnings. Mani, meanwhile, is devouring Your Money or Your Life, and this month we are kicking off some hard-core budgeting and savings goals.

Pearl not only survived his first day of middle school, but came home in a great mood. I met one of the new principals, a man of color in a snappy suit who greeted every student and parent with a handshake by the front door. We rode bikes three mornings in a row, and I found myself feeling happy, grateful, and optimistic as I cycled home without him each day.

Books & Writing

Oh! I meant to tell you: I am reading “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” a collection of essays by Alexander Chee. I posted about it on Instagram and had a total fangirl moment when he left a comment saying, “I hope you love it.” And I do. I fucking love it. The writing is brilliant and if you write and/or appreciate good writing and true stories, run out and get this book.

I also started “Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved)” by Kate Bowler. I wanted to love this book. I thought we had a good shot at bonding. But I put it down about halfway through. It’s clean and accessible, and I haven’t fully put my finger on why it didn’t hook me. It’s almost too highly edited; something is missing for me in terms of depth and detail and voice. Such a mystery, really, why some writing speaks to us and other writing doesn’t — and it’s not necessarily a reflection of the writing, more the alchemy or lack thereof between book and reader.

This month, you can write 11 things for 11 consecutive days with me, as we listen for the sounds of real life happening. You can also come look for the words for two weeks, with the help of 10 new prompts and a small group of brave souls, in Word Search, a new 2-week group. I feel a bit rusty when it comes to everything internet- and work-related, but I know I will find my way back to the candy house with your help.

Juicy Parts

My friend Doug asked me not to leave out the juicy details from my quiet month. I keep scanning my mind for these, sure there must be something more. It’s funny; I hear the word “juicy” and automatically relate that to a) sex and b) scandal. Thankfully, the former is alive and well in my relationship, due no doubt in part by the lack of the latter. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Takeaways

Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. When you know, you know. The hard part is so often making room to fully acknowledge what you know, especially if you *don’t* know what to *do* about the knowing. Sometimes you don’t even have to DO anything.

Sometimes what is needed is the full acknowledgement, the space to actually allow yourself to feel the thing that’s arising. In my case before August, this was a degree of exhaustion and burn-out, a need to get very quiet, to immerse myself fully in my here-and-now life, without extending energy to people I cannot actually see, touch, and hear.

If you ask me whether I’d rather have experiences or things, I will always choose experiences. As long as there’s good coffee.

It was scary. But the scary parts are so rarely as bad once you’re in them as what the imagination may conjure. The definition of courage is always feeling the fear and doing it anyway, whatever it happens to be.

The result? I feel softer. My heart literally feels plumper, if you can believe it. And also like I’m bringing a degree of intention and clarity back into my writing, life, and work as we edge towards a new season.

Keeping My Foot on the Gas


Saturday morning, before the kids and I left for an overnight trip to visit family on Long Island, I drove over to Trader Joe’s to go for a short run and pick up a few groceries. When I pulled into the parking lot around 7:45am, there was not a single other car there. I wondered where the employees park. I kept my jacket on — it was in the mid 30s — zipped my keys and phone into a side pocket and jogged over to the bike path. The air felt good in my lungs as I steadied my breath during those first five or so minutes of running.

On one side of the bike path, the sun rising over the small hills surrounding this valley. On the other side, the mall. Crows, sparrows, cardinals, and starlings all waking up; squirrels and chipmunks scurrying amidst the still-bare bushes; the branches of trees reminding me of bedhead.

At one point, I heard an almost preternatural sound. As I ran, I trained my left ear on this sound, even as I wasn’t sure what it was. Then it got closer and louder and I paused, only to see what must have been not dozens but hundreds of starlings up in the trees above some frozen wetland. The noise was otherworldly. I couldn’t come up with a way to describe it and considered recording it for a minute on Instagram stories, but decided to keep running. Perhaps I’d do this on the return trip.

All of five minutes later, after I had turned around — silence. Where did they all go? A murder of crows convened in the high branches near the barren cornfields to the south, unfazed by my presence below. But the starlings? Gone.

I thought of impermanence and how much I love the mornings, especially this time of year when life feels like it’s waking back up. I thought about how much I like having my feet on the ground.

Back at Trader Joe’s, I counted 30 cars in the lot. With an endorphin high and a canvas bag, I walked through the store, humming along with “Come on Eileen” on the speakers. The day seemed possible. I sipped a tiny sample size of coffee with milk and paid for my groceries, then headed home to shower and get ready for our road trip.

* * *

The drive to Port Washington took nearly five hours instead of the three it would have been without construction on the Hutch. Pearl and I did some Mad Libs, then he took a rest while Aviva and I sang along with a shuffle from Hamilton, In the Heights, Dear Evan Hanson, Chicago, and Rent. We stopped once to pee, and arrived at my cousin’s house around 4:00pm, surprising my cousin’s youngest, who had his 7th birthday last week. We had a sweet visit with them, went out to breakfast yesterday morning with my uncle, who is 80 and as lovely as ever, and then put V on the Long Island Railroad to meet up with a camp friend in the city.

I grabbed an iced latte for the road and Pearl got out his little binder of travel activities (he’d printed out several “I, Spy” types of games from Pinterest). It was another clear and sunny morning. I started the GPS on my phone, and we were off.

As we approached the Throg’s Neck Bridge, I noticed the obvious: Water. On either side of the bridge.

Duh, right?

* * *

“Isn’t it pretty?” I chirped. The East River glimmered below us in the midday light as we headed towards the Bronx. The ramp onto the bridge and 295 East curved to the right, and suddenly what had looked pretty from a slight distance was towering over us. The bridge stands 142′ high (compared to the Golden Gate at 220′). It is less than a mile long. I had driven over it not 24 hours earlier without incident.  In fact, I didn’t even recall crossing it!

Now, though. Whoa. No, thanks. I’m good.

It started in my chest with a burst of heat. The sensation reminded me of an algae bloom in the water, its reach spreading slowly but surely into my limbs and extremities. Before I knew it, my legs felt like they’d been replaced with sandbags and my breathing tightened. I saw what was happening and glanced over at Pearl. We were listening to a This American Life podcast about language, and through the car speakers I heard kids in a Barcelona classroom learning Catalan.

The suspension towers loomed over us while the bridge seemed to stretch out forever. It dawned on me that I had no choice but to keep driving. I had a child in the passenger seat! And even if I’d been alone, there was no alternative but to cross the damn bridge.

“OK, Jena. You have to do this,” I said to myself in my head. Keep breathing, keep breathing. You cannot freeze up or panic, because you have to drive this car over this bridge. I started humming quietly to myself as a way of maintaining the flow of in breath and out breath, amazed at the severity of my response and its sudden onset, to boot.

* * *

When I was 17, I was in a pretty serious car accident in Southern California. I wrote about it a few years ago. It took quite a long time after that to release my fear of driving on the freeway, merging with high-speed traffic, and making sure I knew exactly where I was going. But at this point, I am a pretty calm and confident driver, so this wave of panic really surprised me.

All I can tell you is that it was not fun. Not fun at all.

I made it across, obviously. My whole body tense, willing myself to breathe steadily, not too deeply and not shallowly either. You can do this, you can do this. The tune to a Jewish song I love — The Whole World Is a Very Narrow Bridge — a song that has inspired other writing for me in the past, not to mention carried me through many a narrow passage — spontaneously entered my mind.

Later, back home safe and sound and on solid ground, I mentioned this episode on Facebook. The comments astounded me. We are never the only ones, though we are the only ones ultimately who can carry ourselves through difficult passages. We learn tools and tricks, or just lie down in the backseat and sometimes let someone else do the driving, as one friend mentioned. We can either go through life suffering and not letting anyone know about it, or we can choose to share the scary parts and learn that many, many others have crossed that bridge themselves. In this case, literally.

My friend Tia wrote, “Wondering what emotional bridge might be causing the fear.”

I pondered this, appreciating her tender inquiry.

Pearl’s piano teacher said this had happened to her, and just as suddenly, the fear had passed.

Others chimed in that their son-brother-father-grandmother had feared crossing bridges. Someone posted a photo of an alarming-looking vertical bridge in Japan, the sight of which made me shudder.

* * *

It’s interesting; I am realizing I’ve been writing a lot about fear lately. I think it may be in part because I do not want to feel it. I don’t want to live in fear of the world, of life, of other people, of our government, of change, of my kids’ many transitions as they grow up, of providing for my family, of shootings, of climate change, of antisemitism, of homophobia and transphobia, of being. I do not want to feel it, but feel it I must, lest it creep in while I’m sleeping, slowly overtaking my waking hours, bridge or no bridge.

There is something here for me to learn. Because that song is so very true: The whole world is a very narrow bridge. Having this experience yesterday really gave me more empathy for the courage it takes to go out into the world, to travel, be it near or far, to go to new places, to put oneself in new situations.

Was it brave of me to drive across that bridge? No. I was already on it when the feeling overcame me, and I had to keep driving. I was not in any actual danger, though panicking would surely have created some.

How often is life like this? We have to keep going. We have to get a grip, quite literally, on the steering wheel, keep our eyes on the road ahead, and breathe. We have to stay aware of the traffic on either side of us. Just writing this, I can feel my throat constricting a little.

If I were driving right now — I picture the bridge stretching out before me — I would have to push myself a little to keep my foot on the gas.

Which I do. Because I must.

The Squatter

There’s a squatter living in my head and she doesn’t pay rent.

She picks at everything I write and says: “You’re not a real writer. You write blog posts and Facebook snippets and ten-minute freewrites and none of it amounts to anything.”

She hisses: “Your books aren’t real books.” (No matter that three very real books are on the shelf.) She growls and taunts: “You need to go underground and do nothing but write for a year, get off of social media, and come talk to me when you have a manuscript.”

My wife observes that this doesn’t sound like me — and she’s right. It’s not my voice. It’s the squatter’s.

Call her my inner critic. I’m pretty sure she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as she will stop at nothing to cut me down, keep me off-balance, and make sure I don’t get too big for my britches.

* * *

Wednesday afternoon. We — my wife and I — go for a short walk by the river. “I feel like I’m this close” — holding my thumb and forefinger about an inch apart — “to having a panic attack.” I take a deep breath and she squeezes my hand. I feel a surge of shame. “I should know better,” I think to myself.

I describe to Mani how scared I feel.

“Is it fear — or anxiety?” she asks, ever so gently. We start talking about the difference.

Fear = clear and present danger. Someone has broken into your house. Your kid was supposed to call an hour and a half ago and won’t answer her cell phone. A bear is running in your direction. You are choking. Your are a person of color and a cop has been trailing you for the last two miles. You’re being followed.

Lives are at stake. Maybe even yours.

But in this moment, there is nothing to fear. It’s the last day of February and we’re walking along a stretch of the Connecticut River in Hadley, Massachusetts. I’m taking a break in my work day to go with her to our local butcher.

* * *

Earlier in the day, I paid our March rent and gave thanks. Then I looked at our PayPal balance, and my mind — or rather, that squatter — started up with me.

“This might be the month when everything stops,” the squatter had said. “And you’re getting a puppy?! What are you going to do if you don’t make enough money?”

Really, lady? Do you never take a day off?

Then I remembered: She takes plenty of days off. Then she comes around, usually for just two or three days a month, and does everything in her power to freak me out completely. She convinces me that we are going to be destitute within weeks, that I missed some kind of magical window, and that my self-employment success has been a fluke for the past three years. My number’s up.

Oh, and by the way: Me even writing the word “success” is basically professional suicide, because I’m not supposed to be proud of my work or claim that it’s going well. (Maybe she’s a Jewish squatter and this is her superstitious edge coming through?)

* * *

“No,” I tell Mani as we walk. This isn’t fear that has me in its grips. This is good old-fashioned anxiety.

How can we be sure?

It’s entirely about the future and the past. None of the things coursing through my mind are grounded in real time. I’m jumping ahead and creating all kinds of dire scenarios, inventing stories, and going back over the places where I’d surely made fatal mistakes as a new business owner — ones that everyone can surely see but me. It’s only a matter of time until the whole thing comes crashing down.

I feel some relief, having told Mani what’s on my mind and weighing on my heart. So grateful for her presence and gentle reality checking.

You know what she tells me?

“You have a 100% success rate at surviving every single time you’ve ever felt anxious.”

She is right. One-hundred percent. I think back over so many of the most perilous passages of my life and can’t deny it: None of them have killed me.

* * *

It takes courage, so much courage, to keep going when there are no guarantees of anything.

The minute I return to the truth — that there is a guarantee of death — I come back to the solid ground of right now. The panic subsides, the tides go out and the full moon rises.

That night I have a dream where God tells me I’m working hard enough, doing enough, helping enough people. God tells me it’s ok to relax.

I wake up in the morning and decide to give the squatter a blanket and some lunch money. After all, she’s frightened. I’m the only home she’s got — and she keeps moving me closer towards the truth.

I Was a Memoir Class Dropout

Photo: Daniel Hjalmarsson

The fall of 1999. I’ve just begun my 2nd year of grad school, after taking a year off to live in Tucson, where my soon-to-be husband was completing his MFA in short fiction. I’m studying and writing only poetry, though the pull to memoir and nonfiction is there, an undercurrent that threatens to pull me out into unknown waters.

I finalize my course list for the semester and my work schedule on campus, where I am an academic advisor to international students. We live in a small one-bedroom apartment on Summer Street in Somerville, about 20 minutes on the red line from downtown Boston. I’ve made the decision to stretch myself by registering for a memoir class. It’s taught by a young woman whose name I don’t remember.

What do I have to write about? I’m 25. I am engaged. I have recovered from bulimia. I am the youngest of three sisters. I grew up in socioeconomic comfort as my parents climbed the academic ladders. I have one student loan but no other debt. I’m fluent in three languages. I want babies. I’ve started smoking again, after quitting, but don’t want my fiance to know. I work out at the gym before class, then smoke in the alley adjacent to 180 Tremont Street, where I take the stairs to my three-and-a-half hour night class with Bill Knott.

I have a love-hate relationship with workshops; I love the conversation that occurs around my classmate’s poems, and hate sitting quietly while they talk about mine. I hate writing poems on a deadline. I love the classes where we read Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop and William Carlos Williams. Where we talk about whether poetry has to be hard. I don’t think so. I think that’s a crock of shit and say so. We have lively discussions and I’m in my element in a small classroom with a passionate teacher.

But the memoir class? I go once. I drop out.

I am not in my element. It’s not time yet.

And instead of exploring this, instead of seeing what happens when I try writing in a new genre, I run. I run to the gym. I run to the alley with my Marlboros. I run to my wedding planning and the dreams we have for starting our life together, all starry-eyed and excitedly talking about what cities or towns we might like to live in after I graduate in the spring.

But I do not write memoir.

My fear of not having anything to write wins this round. I stick to poetry, which feels safer, like I know the landscape, the terrain, the things to avoid and the parts to dive into. My advisor and I meet for beers and I wonder if he has a crush on me, even as I know how inappropriate this wondering is. He is an accomplished but relatively unknown poet himself, whose loneliness and broken heart seem to fuel his existence.

* * *

What I don’t know now is that in ten years, I will begin writing what I think is going to be a memoir. It will feel urgent, not unlike when I knew it was time to try to conceive each of our future children — a drive I can explain only as biological. I have a story inside of my body that needs to be born. I don’t know what its gestation period is, how long it will take. All I know is that I have to nourish it. I start writing as if every word is a prenatal vitamin for this embryonic someday story. I make lists of names. I use giant pieces of sticky paper on the walls as charts and maps and timelines, circles and topics. I print out every blog post I’ve ever written, scouring my own words for themes.

Bulimia, closet smoking, motherhood, marriage, mindfulness, discovering my Jewish identity — these all show up. And yet something is missing and I can’t put my finger on it. I write for several hours a day. I write chronologically, from the very beginning of my life. I’ve never done anything like this and it’s all-consuming, exhilarating, and also frustrating and confusing. Why can’t I figure out what the book is about?

* * *

Eventually, I take everything I’ve drafted and put it in a 3-ring binder. I roll up the charts and put the sharpies in a drawer. I go back to therapy and tell her I’m sitting on a landmine. Everything in me has been activated by the writing.

A few months later, I come out. I come out with so much force that my own body transforms within weeks into a barely recognizable version of myself. It’s as if I literally shed all the padding I’ve worn, of who I’ve tried so hard to be. In an instant, I understand. I understand why I dropped out of that memoir class. I understand why I couldn’t finish my book.

It still wasn’t time. Because I was still living it.

I couldn’t know what the book was about because it was buried too deeply in me.

And it was only then that I could finally begin again. Only after I’d given up on the whole thing. Let the writing go that had brought me as far as it could. It wasn’t a book; it was myself. And yet without the whole journey — the avoiding writing and later the deep dive into it — I would not have found my way to myself.

* * *

I am 25. I am too scared to try my hand at writing true stories. I stick to poetry, where I can swallow my voice and see it move through body or a poem, like an egg through a snake, whole. I can tell it slant, paying homage to Emily Dickinson, with whom I identify so closely that the first stanza of her poem #640 becomes an anthem of sorts:

I cannot live with You — 
It would be Life — 
And Life is over there — 
Behind the Shelf 

I fail to see the writing on the wall, the writing inside of my self-reflexive mind and hungry heart, that might have seen this anthem as something of a red flag for a woman about to be married. All I know is that some things don’t feel safe even though I can’t say why. What I am unable to see for another 11 years is that I am the unsafe thing.

* * *

There are many ways into writing memoir and some stories can’t be discovered without writing in big, looping circles. Once you open one door, there’s no telling what you’ll find — and this can feel like scary ground. At 25, I wasn’t ready. And with nearly 20 years between me now and that time, I can look back with great compassion for my younger self. I also feel that same compassion now every time I begin to write something new.

When you sign up for the Mini Memoirs group (March 5-26), you might feel nervous.  Maybe you’re not sure what memory or moment in time you want to write about — or maybe you know exactly which one and yikes, this is a first. Maybe you worry you won’t be a good enough writer. (This fear was undoubtedly another reason why I dropped out of that class back in 1999.)

Here’s what I will tell you about this group:

It’s limited to 12 participants. Prompts are three days a week, to give you some breathing room on either side of each. And each prompt asks that you sit and write for just 10 minutes without stopping. It might not sound like much, and on the one hand, it isn’t. It’s manageable, no matter how busy you are. On the other hand, it is so much more than you think, in terms of just how much we can access and write in so short a time. I’ve seen the power of this over and over now for the past three years, and it never ceases to me how much beautiful and true writing can emerge with such seemingly simple and short assignments. I’ve moved through this series of prompts several times, learning more about myself at ages 9, 16, and 38 along the way.

You do not have to know in advance what you want to write.

Last but not least: This is safe and brave space, confidential and contained. What happens in the group stays in the group. Whether you’re writing to heal, explore your past, or generate new material for an essay or book, you will be welcomed, witnessed, and cheered on — by me and your fellow mini memoirists.

Is it time to plant and water those seedlings?

If you have questions about this (or any other) group, or if you want to set up a payment plan, just contact me and we can chat. Learn more about the group here, or register for your spot below. I can’t wait to write with you.

Choose one:
Group only $198.00 USD
Group + 60-minute coaching session $289.00 USD

Writing in Groups: Frequently Asked Questions


Over the course of leading many flavors of writing groups, certain questions tend to come up from participants. Here are a handful of those.

How do I comment on people’s writing?

From the gut. From the heart. The same way you write. Maybe there was a passage or an image that startled you or shot tears to your eyes, made you laugh or gasp or brought your hand to your mouth (or forehead!). Maybe you found yourself at a loss for words but deeply moved. Maybe the writing evoked a memory or elicited a question for you. Inner critics *love* messing with us when it comes to commenting on other people’s writing. You have to be clever, they tell us. And smart and insightful and most of all, helpful. And so instead of sharing what we fear might be too simple, we shut down and say nothing. Don’t let your inner critic drive the bus. Comment intuitively and trust your responses.

What if I offend someone?

A closed writing group is a place to practice being bold and surviving the discomfort of sharing something that takes you to more honest places in your writing. Running the risk of offending someone is often a corollary to writing without self-censor (or self-censure). While posting hateful content of any kind is unacceptable, if you’re writing your own truths and someone is offended, that’s on them to sit with and, if they choose, name. But if we only share what we hope will make readers feel good, we run an even greater risk of letting fear win (not to mention the likelihood of lackluster writing).

I’m all over the place. How will I know what to write?

One of the wonderful things about freewriting is that we can start anywhere. One of the best places I’ve found to start is right here. Literally right here and now. Over the years, I would not be surprised if 50% of everything I’ve ever written begins with the words, “I am sitting…” Locating ourselves in space and time gives us a point of entry, and from there — if we keep the pen moving — we will meander and discover what else awaits us. Knowing is not a prerequisite for writing practice; it’s one of its most powerful byproducts. Be willing not to know and your trust of the process — and yourself — will naturally deepen.

I’m afraid I won’t commit.

As soon as we change the rigid rules about what “counts,” the question of commitment can start to shift. These rules tend to be excuses, and excuses are usually fears in disguise. Take a look at the fears underlying your resistance to writing (I won’t stick with it, my writing will suck, I’m not a real writer because… I always/I never…, I’m way out of my league, what if _____, my family would shit a brick if…). Then spend some time considering some alternative perspectives. What if “committing” to a writing practice meant showing up for even “just” five or ten minutes. What if you gave yourself permission to suck? What if you could write without apology or explanation? What if you knew you could choose how and whether to share your words beyond the safety of a small, supportive group? What if you took a gentle risk and didn’t have to have the next steps all figured in advance?

Bottom line (for today!)

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor and an intimate process. Learning the contours of our own creativity means feeling around in the dark.

One of the beautiful things about writing in a group is that we get to practice doing that together. We do this by starting, by which I mean showing up, stepping in, and seeing what happens. Writing in community — be it in-person, online, or a combination of both — can mean the difference between sticking with it and getting stuck, not only because we are more likely to hold ourselves accountable when other folks are involved, but also become we encourage each other along the way. Others see things in our writing — and in us — that we are too close to to notice. We experience firsthand that we are not as alone — or as wacky — as we think.

Margaret Mead’s words come to mind: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everybody else.”

Have questions about writing that I don’t address here? Leave a comment or give me a holler.