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.

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/

Taking Rest on the Blank Page

Anja Savic :: The Letterist

Have you ever gone to a yoga class and spent the whole time in savasana?

Not just lying on your back on your mat, but the bells and whistles, too — the eye pillow (my favorite), the bolster beneath your knees, the heavy blanket? All the while the class inhaling and exhaling and sun saluting all around you as you drift in and out of conscious thought in that delicious liminal space between asleep and awake?

Just writing about it gives rise to a deepening, steadying breath. I notice where my teeth are touching ever so slightly, and open my jaw and mouth wide before closing them again but not quite all the way. I shift to breathing through my nostrils and feel the breath cool against my sinus cavity, then moving down the back of my throat, filling my chest, ribcage, and belly.

All of this is incongruous with the fact that I have not been to a yoga studio in months, just as it has been equally as long since I even rolled out my may here in the living room. But the mere muscle memory of savasana causes my neurons to stand at attention (or maybe rest at attention is more accurate, if oxymoronic).

When I picture these neurons, I see a field of sunflowers — all of those big yellow faces smiling towards the light. It’s as if my entire physical being has been alerted and is responding: “Did she say yoga? Did she say savasana? Aaaaaah, we remember how good that feels, to lengthen and deepen, to root and rise, to fill the body with breath.”

My mind, on the other hand, is skeptical about reconciling this topic with my total and complete inaction. Isn’t it hypocritical to write about yoga — much less in such flowery terms — when one is not even practicing yoga?

What but is yoga practice, really? Does it require a mat? Does it require physical movement? Isn’t breath physical movement? Isn’t yoga the union of physical consciousness and breath?

I do want to return to the physical practice of yoga, to an asana practice that I know will welcome me back, without asking, “Where the hell have you been?” But I also want to imagine something else: The possibility that writing practice may in fact be a form of yoga, too. A unification of breath and being, a place to arrive, an way to explore inner and outer landscapes, and to deliberately slow down and create space between thoughts and between breaths.

Right now, I am sitting on a chair in my living room, hosting and facilitating a small weekly writing group. We began by writing 11 things as a kind of warm-up, as if to send a flare to our brains that it was time to enter into writing territory. After that, I set a timer for a longer interval, and as soon as I hit “start,” my mind went to savasana and the desire to opt out of a more active practice.

I remember how much I’ve appreciated, over the 23 years since my very first yoga class, those teachers who would not only not judge or scowl at such a choice, but who might even come by a time or two during our 90 minutes together with a gentle touch to the top of my head or bottoms of my blanket-clad feet.

And I realize that not only do I wish to cultivate this kind of permission for myself, but also this kind of spaciousness for those who come into my writing spaces. I want you to know that it’s not only ok, but deeply worthy, to listen to your body. To take rest if you need it — even if everyone else seems to be churning out essays and poems and blog posts and rough drafts and raw material. You are not everyone. This is your practice. This is your time. It’s not a competition or a race.

We have so few places to go where judgment doesn’t follow us with its eyes around the room, like a parent or teacher who has only to raise her eyebrow just so, without saying a word, to make her displeasure known.

Truth be told, I almost didn’t write today. I am tired from the weekend and a lot of driving yesterday, a little fuzzy, and low on energy and ideas. I almost rolled out my grey yoga may — the one with a layer of pollen on it from being rolled up just under a window all summer.

The other writers in the room would no doubt have been puzzled, though I doubt they would have objected. But I decided to come here instead, to lay myself down on the blank, unlined page, to let my pen draw me into a slower pace, to allow my mind time to wander, and to give myself over to this practice of showing up exactly as I am, in this moment.

How much of our lives do we spend in overdrive, overriding how we really feel and denying what we most deeply long for and need?

Real rest comes from stripping away the effort of pretense.

Here I am, we can finally say. I am tired. I am cooked. I am love. I am pain. I am grief. I am rage. I am confusion. I am the storm and I am its eye. I am I.

And then, maybe, in the fullest expression of the pose, for an instant of blissful union with something both greater than and deep within us, we experience a place where even the “I” can slip away.

Real Life in 11 Parts: May 16

1. I wonder at what point “in real life” became a common phrase. I’m fascinated by things like this, language and how different trends begin and spread.

2. That makes me think about the conversation Mani and I just had about class differences, and how these affect the things we know and don’t know.

3. Will I ever write anything again that doesn’t mention Chalupa snoring?

4. I just saw a headline about octopus eggs from space a zillion years ago. The internet is weird. It’s part of why I go out of the house — again with the “real life” theme. Not that real life isn’t in the house, too; it’s just that since I’m self-employed and work from home… see #3.

5. Came to Starbucks on Route 9. I just saw two of the nurses from the family practice where Mani and the kids and I all go for primary care. There was that moment, when patient confidentiality comes into play. It reminded me of how, many years ago, probably a decade now, I kept bumping into my former therapist everywhere.

6. Is it a stretch, to write 11 things a day? I guess that’s part of what I want to explore. What happens when I don’t worry about being boring or repetitive? Because honestly, life is repetitive. Sure, if you’re a first responder or an ER doc or in active combat duty, maybe the days are always filled with adrenaline and constantly changing conditions. But for most of us, aren’t there certain routines, beaten paths, patterns, and habits? Some degree of boring is ok with me now. I see it partly as a mindset, a way of seeing and perceiving. One could argue that boring is impossible if we’re truly awake and paying attention; if you watch one branch on a tree, a busy counter at a cafe, even the rise and fall of your own breath, you’ll see that nothing is static. And living with adrenaline coursing through your system is actually a recipe for disaster.

7. And yet, I worry this will get boring. Ha.

8. A woman with white shoulder-length hair is speaking Spanish with a younger woman. I imagine they might be related, maybe mother and daughter. Yesterday, I got to talk on the phone with a friend whose daughter has been living in Mexico. My friend is teaching herself Spanish using an app. She was saying how much she’s enjoying it, and also that it is siphoning mental energy away from writing at the moment. It got me thinking about how we get more proficient at whatever we’re doing the most consistently.

9. There are so many things I want to do and learn. And yet lately, my mental energy goes to writing, to caring for my marriage and kids, to nurturing my work and those who write with me, and now, to the baby dog. This is a life. My life. Will I ever return to studying Hebrew? Will I ever learn how to change the oil?

10. I just farted. Excuse me.

11. Sometimes when I look at the carefully arranged shelves filled with shiny, new things, I feel the pull of consumerism. If we have nice things, we’ll be happy. And then, through that momentary fog, I see something else. Something like the truth.

* * *

Want to write 11 things with me for 11 days with 11 other beautiful humans living life? The Sound of Real Life Happening, a brand-new writing group, will take place June 11-21. Whether your intention is to practice paying more attention to your days, to generate raw material for other writing, or both, this group promises to be small, supportive, intimate, and encouraging.

Details + registration

Some FAQs About Writing Practice + Groups

Periodically, I like to go back to basics and remind folks — myself included — what this writing practice business is really all about.  So, while baby dog snores at my feet, I put together some FAQs for you. I hope you find them helpful.

Q: What is writing practice?

A: Getting words on the page without worrying about polishing, perfecting, or publishing. The act itself has value, and often reveals gems that may otherwise have stayed hidden. This is truly a practice of self-ownership, rather than writing for an audience (or not writing for fear of one).

Q: Why do this in a group?

A: There is power in community. In witnessing and encouraging each other to show up. In remembering that we are not the only ones. In taking the risk to be seen. In setting ego aside and letting ourselves be imperfect, real… human. In having a bit of structure to help you start — and keep you going.

Q: How does it work?

A: You sign up for the next group (choose a 2-week or slower 10-week option). Meet some wonderful folks. Get prompts in your inbox. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Just write. It is really that simple. The only thing that makes it complicated is the inner critic, and she’s not invited.

Q: What if I can’t afford it?

A: Message me. I am committed to making all of my work accessible to anyone who wants to write, regardless of financial status. Contrubutions to a Community Writers’ Fund help me offer sliding scale payments and sponsored spots.

Q: I am so busy. I can’t possibly keep up with a writing group.

A: The idea of keeping up is one we dispense with pretty much from the get go in my groups. There is enough of that in our culture. As for being so busy… oh, this could turn into a whole blog post. Maybe I’ll write that one soon!

Q: I’m not really a writer.

A: Wait, is that a question? You don’t need to flash your writer badge to sign up for a group. No one will be checking your writing credentials at the door. If you write words on a page, you are a writer. If writing is one of the ways you process and explore your experience of being here in the world, you are a writer. If writing is grounding, healing, or inspiring for you, you are a writer.

Q: Where do I sign up?

A: Right here! Or drop me a note if you have questions I didn’t address here. A new 2-week group starts next week, or you can choose a 10-week, slow-burn option.

Q: If not now, when?

A: That one was rhetorical.