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

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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.


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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

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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.

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Between Were and Are is Here and Now


I’m sitting here. Where is here? Here is “where” without the “w.” Here is my couch — a small, grey leather loveseat with a story behind it. Does every piece of furniture have a story? Probably yes. Here is the living room, in the company of Chalupa, who will be eight-months old tomorrow. She is chewing industriously on the metal sides of her platform bed, which we have permitted her to transform into a hammock of sorts. Our rational is that it keeps her busy and it’s better than eating the furniture, the furniture with stories.

Here is to the right of the kitchen, where homemade blueberry muffins are cooling, and to the left of my daughter’s room. Neither of my kids has school today. Now the puppy is chewing on her paws, which doesn’t seem good. But she’s entertaining herself and I’m not going to mess with it.

Outside, it’s raining, a cold, grey, fall rain. I am not hanging out in hopefulness today, not after what happened two years ago. But I am also not despairing. I am concerned about gerrymandering and voter suppression and intimidation. I am heartened by the people in my orbit who are doing their part. Eager, nervous. And just knowing that we have to get through this day and pray that the results are favorable and send an unequivocally clear message to those in power.

Any inspiration I have had to write has gone out of the window. It’s just not here. But I’m showing up anyway instead of falling into the binary trap of brilliant or bust.

Remember Adam? Well, yesterday, I got to spend an hour with him looking closely at some of his new poems. We drank bubble tea and ate macarons and talked about where poetry comes from and how it’s usually inconvenient in its timing. I read him this fabulous story from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, about the poet Ruth Stone running through the fields and sometimes catching a poem by its tail. He has never taken any official classes in writing poetry, but he has read a ton and it is a privilege to get to be part of his writing life, one of those things that makes me pinch myself with gratitude to make sure I’m really here.

I’m here. That’s the main phrase I’ve been coming back to for as long as I can remember, and certainly for as long as I’ve been blogging. It’s how I felt on Friday night at services, when the tears began rolling and wouldn’t stop, tears I’d been holding in without even meaning to. The familiar “I should become a rabbi” feeling surged through me. I went to the gender neutral bathroom to sob for a few minutes. I didn’t turn on the light. I just stood there against the wall in the dark and let it out.

Later, our rabbi said some profound words about facing the door. During a central prayer in the Friday evening Shabbat service, the congregation rises and faces the door. The idea is that Shabbat is the bride, and we are turning to see her entrance, to delight in her presence. The minute he said the words “open door,” the most chilling sensation tore through me. The open door to the sanctuary. The door through which we expect to see beauty, not bullets.

He also talked about the origins of leaving a door open during the Passover seder. Now, we know this tradition to be linked to the hoped-for arrival of the prophet Elijah. in the middle ages, non-Jews grew suspicious — more so than they already were — of what Jewish families were doing during Passover. In short, they accused them of things like drinking the blood of Christian babies. So the Jews, in what I imagine to be a mixture of frustration, anger, and defiance said, you’re wondering what we’re doing? Look, we will even fling open our doors. We have nothing to hide.

Now the open door to a sanctuary becomes so loaded, so symbolic, such a direct challenge to us: Can we keep our doors open, unguarded? Can we keep our hearts open, unguarded?

On this rainy election day afternoon, these questions make me want to curl up back under the covers. It’s too much. My son practices his new song on the piano before going to bake an apple pie with my mother. My daughter plays guitar behind her closed door. Now Chalupa has collapsed beneath the coffee table we won’t let her chew on. She’s snoring loudly.

Between the rain and her snoring and a fully belly, a great sleepiness comes over me and I wonder how I will possibly stay awake for the rest of the day or for the rest of my life. I flit over to the Dive Into Poetry group and read poems the way a French person might eat dessert — savoring each bite, marveling at the way the flavors and textures work together.

Then I take a breath.

The rain is so soothing. I am here, inside a warm space. I know the whereabouts of my people: My wife, my kids. I weep inside, knowing that this is not a given. Knowing that this is not the case for so many. As I wept on Friday night in the sanctuary, images of asylum seekers walking towards our border kept coming to me. We were refugees, too. We were exiled. We were ostracized. Are, are, are.

The space between ‘were and are collapses, as it did in the dream I had last night, an epic saga of racial profiling that culminated in my somehow knowing that the present had actually occurred many generations ago and that what I was seeing was, in fact, the past. We are the ancestors.

Next May, I am going to Israel for the first time, with my parents and my daughter. We will spend a week there as tourists. I keep saying maybe I will write about my history of trips not taken to Israel. Of dreams where I landed at the airport and knew exactly where I was, even driving home on some long roads through what seemed like nowhere until suddenly a city came into view and I was here, I was home. My first trip-not-taken to Israel was, or would’ve been, in 1995, then 1996, then 2001. I may still, write the story, that is.

But not today.

Today, only this. Rain. Snoring. Quiet. Waiting.

p.s. Now it’s a few hours later. I left the house! I voted! I talked to a writing client about books, and how the process is not the outcome. And now, as it begins to get dark out at 3:38pm, I follow Chupie’s lead and give myself to a wee little rest.

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

Blogaversary Giveaway!

Photo | Alex Blăjan

It’s my 11th blogaversary! Naturally, I’m celebrating with a GIVEAWAY. The winner will receive a free 30-minute coaching session to be used anytime between now and the end of January. To play, just leave a comment on my very first blog post (below). I’ll choose one name at random tomorrow, Monday, at 5:00pm EST.

A teeny-tiny bit of backstory: On January 7, 2007, I started a blog named Bullseye, Baby! (Yes, the exclamation point was part of the name.) I didn’t really know what a blog was, only that I needed a place to practice — so that was the blog’s little tagline.

There were a few times when I hit pause, thought I was done, or changed the platform and name (anyone remember More Joy, Less Oy?). For six months or so in 2010, I went dark completely. The space itself had many makeovers over the years, changing right alongside me. But it always remained my place to practice showing up.

So, here’s the first blog post I ever wrote. (You can see that I haven’t changed all that much.) Whether you’ve been there since day one or are new to my words, thank you. It’s the connection, the space between us, that energizes my writing more than anything else. I’m so grateful for the continuous unfolding.

PRACTICE WHAT?

Hitting the bullseye, baby.

It was a few months back, 2:30am, nursing my second child in the glider in her room. I was thinking about images for my new Strong Coaching business card. And I was thinking about something I read once that made quite an impression on me – that in Judaism, the word chet, usually translated as “sin,” actually means something closer to “missing the mark.” I learned this in the context of Yom Kippur, when the word “sin” comes up an awful lot in the prayerbook’s English translations. Sin – such an offputting word. So final. So full of judgment.

But missing the mark – now this was a concept I could get my head around. Forgiving, roomy. With implications of more chances. You know, nobody’s perfect. Better yet, imperfection is where all the juice is. We do our best, we practice, we try stuff, we throw spaghetti at the wall and we skin knees and we get hurt and we learn in ways that are sometimes grueling and other times graceful – about relationships, about love, about work, about pretty much everything. In all that trying, in the practice, comes the learning and the growing that we’re here to do. And in the process, maybe the bullseye itself isn’t “getting” the thing we’ve been aiming at but rather hitting on some increased ability to be patient and kind to ourselves.

I put the baby back in her crib and grabbed my journal to sketch a bullseye, knowing the image would be lost on me if I left it till morning. What is coaching, after all, but a chance to try stuff and muck around and develop greater self-knowledge and forgiveness and to make core discoveries about what it is that makes us feel most ourselves. When I feel most myself, there’s more bounce in my step, freedom in my laughter, flexibility in my actions and love in my heart. More moments of compassion and spontaneity and synchronicity, more interest in strangers, more tolerance. There are no right answers. And God is not my judge but a partner in crime who thinks I am a pretty cool chick. What is coaching but the chance to take come chances, throw some darts, and hang out knowing that you’re better off practicing than letting inertia get the better of you.

Bullseye, baby. Two babies, actually. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at them in wonder. The first blew my world open in ways that demanded spiritual integration of a whole new order. The second carries a lucidity that has placed me in the company of a whole posse of angels. Together, these blue-eyed Jewish beauties nudge me towards myself. We stand in the company of so many women, sisters, daughters, mothers. And there’s nothing quite like motherhood when it comes to practice, patience, forgiveness, flexibility, creativity…

So here is my invitation: Pick a bullseye for yourself. Sure, it might be a moving target. But you know what’s been waiting, or calling for your attention. And then make some changes. Take some action. Take a chance. Call it practice.