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.

When the Going Gets Tough

DNA Tree of Life by MimiPrints

I am a crier. Or is it cry-er? If I am a rager, it’s usually inward. I am a driver and  a walker. When the going gets tough, I used to be a smoker and a runner. These days, I’m making friends again with my yoga mat and the breath.

I keep going. I remind myself that nothing is permanent. I crave being cared for and taken care of. I can get awfully martyrish but usually catch myself before I get lost in there completely.

I did an online personality test the other day, one of those Facebook quiz things that you know is an utter waste of time but you click on anyway. My results ranked these four things highest: Anxiety, sensitivity, friendliness, and complexity. Really? There were other things, too. But those were my top results. I felt a rush of shame, a kind of “shouldn’t” especially around the anxiety. I want to be better than that, isn’t that ridiculous? I want to be cool as a cucumber. I want to be calm as a buddha. I want to be easy like Sunday morning.

Instead, I seem to carry the “worrier” gene that has surely been passed down the mother line for generations. We recently learned that there is an actual gene for “worriers” and “warriors.”

The thing with genes is that we can turn then on and off. We could talk nature/nurture all day, and it’s endlessly fascinating stuff to me. Genes determine so much about our propensities and dispositions, but so does context and environment in every sense. From the water we drink and the soil our food grows in to the rain that falls and the chemicals carried on wind even over the organic crops we may choose, there is no unchlorinated end of the swimming pool.

But back to genes, and things getting tough, and worry. Who decides what “tough” means? Do I wring my hands? I desperately want to say no. I don’t sit around fretting. It’s no wonder I chose to marry someone who is so unstoppable in the face of adversity.

But my people are also tough. We’ve survived and survived and survived. And I am giving myself to this lifetime of practice. Practice staying with myself and the people closest to me when things get stressful, rather than running, rather than folding up, rather than imploding, rather than wishing and fantasizing for something other or better. Even when the going gets tough, I want to remember that I am here. I get to be here for it. Sometimes I can lose sight of that, and those are dark moments.

Tomorrow the light returns. The sun begins to come back, one minute longer at a time. The sun enters Capricorn, season of my birth. I am surrendering to these next days, making room for quiet and letting things be as they are. Plenty of things have been really tough these past few years, but the hardest parts are inseparable, too, from everything that feeds and fuels me now, both literally and figuratively.

At the end of the day, that’s the double helix I’ll hang my hat on.

6X6: Just Write… Coming in January 2018!


A couple of months ago, I announced a new group called Shitty First Drafts.

Soon thereafter, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough vision yet for how it would be different from my other groups, so I decided to give it some time to gestate. I pulled it from my website, not knowing whether I’d resurrect, transform, or scrap it.

Soon, it became clear what the problem was. The problem was what the problem so often is: I was trying too hard.

Something similar happened two years ago, when an idea that began as exciting grew increasingly unwieldy the more I worked on it. I reached out to a trusted writer and teacher for some perspective. Our conversation circled around one of my favorite questions: Where is there ease? 

A 12-week group called “Creative Ease” emerged from that shift, which eventually morphed into Jewels on the Path, one of my cornerstone groups.

Some ideas come fast and furious, sprung like Athena whole and complete, and I often take what one of my sisters affectionately calls a “shoot, ready, aim” approach to putting things out there. I trust the idea and then dive into the details, rather than the other way around. I love the playfulness and trust this entails.

But it doesn’t always work.

Shitty First Drafts, in its original inception, didn’t quite work. The format of the group was too close to other things I already offer, and I couldn’t for the life of me articulate who it was for or what would make it special.

Until it hit me: The name of this program won’t be Shitty First Drafts, a phrase made famous by Anne Lamott. It will be something even simpler. Ready for it?

JUST WRITE.

That’s right. Just that. Six weeks of just writing. Showing up once a week to put your pen to paper, to start and keep going, to let your words show up on the page and your voice take up room in space. To connect with others in an intimate setting, where we are all in it together.

How will it work?

  1. We’ll gather via Zoom (download here) and spend 30 minutes writing. There may be a reading or prompt to start us off, but the purpose of this time is to sit down and get words on the page.
  2. Following the writing period, each participant will have 15 minutes to read their words out loud and receive comments and feedback from the group.
  3. Each participant will be assigned a week to be the Featured Writer. She’ll send out a piece in advance for the rest of us to read, and have our undivided attention for 20 minutes of workshop-style discussion about her work, including addressing any specific feedback requests.
  4. Our time will conclude with each writers stating an intention or writing goal for the coming week. Writers may choose to continue with one piece of writing or to generate new material — the choice is yours, the time is yours.
  5. Two  40-minute coaching calls . We can use these to talk about specific pieces of writing, to brainstorm and bounce around ideas, and to address any challenges your faces and ways forward.

Why so simple?

Because sometimes all we need is the loosest of containers, the gentlest accountability, the fewest bells and the quietest whistles. At the end of the day — which is when this group will occur — it’s ultimately about showing up, sitting down, and just writing. Shitty first drafts and perhaps more polished drafts will follow, or not. The words you discover might be seeds of longer pieces, fragments of dreams, freewrites you’ll discard completely, or something else altogether. One of the only things I know for sure about the writing process is this: Writing begets writing. And having a small, supportive community of listeners and witnesses creates some mighty magic.

What else is included in the cost?

In addition to 2.5 hours per week together as a group, of both silent writing time and group sharing and discussion, you’ll schedule two 40-minute calls with me. We can use this time to focus on specific pieces of writing, to tease out where you get blocked, and to play with ways to continue to go deeper into your own work. There’s no specific agenda for our calls; this is your time, and a chance to talk about whatever’s going on for you in writing + life.

Will the calls be recorded?

The calls will be recorded. We will have a secret Facebook group for the express purpose of sharing these, in case you miss one and/or simply want to go back to listen to comments on your work again. The Facebook group will also be a place to share encouragement and support throughout the week.

Who should join:

Anyone who wants to produce more pages but finds that perfectionism and procrastination interfere with progress. This group is open to all gender identities and expressions as well as to all genres, though creative nonfiction and personal essay will likely comprise most of the writing. No previous experience in writing groups necessary. This group is also totally compatible with any of Jena’s other writing groups.

Do I need a particular project?

No, though it’s also fine if you do.

Risks and possible side-effects:

Heightened self-awareness, greater curiosity and sense of inquiry, deepening sense of trust in your own quirky and wondrous creative process, and increased willingness to keep going in the face of not knowing may all arise as secondary byproducts of this group.

Can I sign up for the calls and not the coaching?

Not for this group. In order to ensure a high level of participation and commitment, everyone in the Just Write groups will be working with me privately in addition to meeting with the group. If you’re interested in a super supportive, long-term (12 week) accountability group, check out Jewels on the Path. Or drop me a line and we can discuss what would be a good fit.

Dates + Times:

Two sections will kick off the new year:

Tuesdays, 1:00-3:30PM EST: January 16, 23, 30, February 6 , 13, 27 (3 remaining spots)
OR
Thursdays: , 5:30-8:00PM EST: January 18, 25, February 8, 15, March 1 (6 spots)

please note there will be no groups on 2/20 and 2/22 

Cost:

$419

Register + Payment:

Registration deadline is Friday, January 5, 2018.

Reserve your spot today with a non-refundable $99 deposit. You will be automatically billed for two additional installments of $160, two and four weeks after registering. Or use the “Buy Now” button below to pay in full.

Don’t forget to send me a note telling me which group you’d like to join (Tuesdays or Thursdays).

Payment Plan
Number of payments 3
No. Due* Amount
1 At checkout $99.00 USD
2 after 2 weeks $160.00 USD
3 after 4 weeks $160.00 USD
Total $419.00 USD
* We calculate payments from the date of checkout.
Sign up for

OR pay in full: 

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.

In Pursuit of Magic (or Not)


It wasn’t until I stopped pursuing magic that magic finally started pursuing me. Isn’t that always the way?

And yet even once you know it’s the way, you still can’t do it on purpose, because magic is resistant to contrivance. And so you just have to live and try to forget about it as best you can, and then maybe — just when you’re least expecting it — magic will happen and you will wonder how you didn’t see it coming.

Magic, so unassuming, dressed down as if for casual Friday at the office rather than glammed up for a girls’ night out. Magic, less glitter and more grit. Magic, that invisible force that is part faith, part fairy dust, part boots on the ground and hands in the air, part soil and part air and so much water and a thing that can happen to you on any day of the week.

Magic, when I pursue her, ducks and covers. She really does. I get scared that she’s gone forever but she’s never left me for good. Magic says, trust me. Magic says, wait for it. Magic says, stop looking so hard. Make dinner for your kids. In fact, make dinner for yourself. Eat. Sleep. Work. Love. I’ll come around. I’m never not there.

You see, magic talks to me.

Maybe magic is another word for angels. Maybe magic is what happens when people come together for good, or part for good. Maybe magic is just two syllables for things we can’t explain, but I think it’s more than that. It’s a special word; writing this makes me want to look up its etymology.

Of course, religions of all kinds have poo-poohed magic. But that’s not where I feel like going with this. I’m more into the yeah, bring it on, baby kind of vibe today. Magic and mojo go together for me, and like I said, when these are missing, I can get scared. Like I’m lost.

But then I go back to the first paragraphs, the first words, the abracadabra of “let there be light” and how “abacadabra” itself is ancient Aramaic for “may it be so” or something like that. How cool is that? See? Bible magic even. And what I mean by go back is this: If I look back on just about every twist and turn of my life — all of which are preceded by the twists and turns of my parents’ lives, and their parents and their parents back and back and back, none of it could’ve been anything short of magic.

After all, I’m here, right?

And that has GOT to be something like magic. And when I said no, no more, no more false magic, no more forcing magic, no more hoping for magic, no more willing magic, no more telling myself something is magic when everything in my body and soul are crying for freedom and truth and something else — that was when I laid it all down.

I can’t do this alone, I said to the empty room. Sobbed, actually. So many times. And something, every time, has carried me through those moments all the way to this moment. All the way to safety and butterscotch blondies and the chance to live and love another day. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.


An unedited freewrite from in my newest 2-week writing group, which opened today. What’s on your writing radar this fall?