Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging with a Gift for YOU

schwartz

Ten years ago tomorrow, on January 7, 2007, I wrote these words on a brand-new blog:

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. (Read more

Ten years!!

To celebrate a decade of writing online and all of the real-life friendships and connections it has led to and continues to foster, I’m offering you a spot in Imperfect Offerings, my next two-week writing group (January 9-20), for whatever amount you can and want to pay.

This offer is good through Sunday night, January 8 (which also happens to be David Bowie’s birthday — may he rest in peace and rise like Lazarus — and I know this because a) we are both Capricorns and b) I loved him so much when I was young that I cried on his birthday when we couldn’t be together).

I’ll be welcoming you into our secret Facebook space on Sunday. When you get to PayPal, choose the “Send Money” option and simply put in the amount you’d like to pay and my email address: jenarschwartz (at) gmail (dot) com.


Read on for more about the blogaversary, “just” writing, and other musings.

* * * * *

In the beginning, this blog was called Bullseye, Baby! and it was, indeed, my “place to practice.” That was the actual tagline. I had resolved to write without fussing over (i.e. editing to death) my posts, to show up and see what happened and to share. Mind you, I was essentially sharing with my sister, who for the first 11 months or so was my only reader.

But I missed writing and I missed myself and damnit, I was determined. It wasn’t about having an audience or even good writing; it was about writing… anything. I had two kids four and under at the time, and very few people in my life even knew I wrote at all.

I signed up that winter for a 15-week writing class called Women Writing for (a) Change, led by wonderful teacher in Vermont, Sarah Bartlett. It was the combination of giving myself the gift of these various support structures — the social and “real” support of the class, and the virtual support of the blog — that jump-started what has grown, over the course of the last decade (in fits and starts and with so many then-unimaginable back roads and detours), into my life and my livelihood.

I believe that that beginning set my whole life-as-I-know-it-today into motion. It’s kind of mind-blowing, to be honest.

* * * * *

The image above is from one of my favorite children’s books, called Before You Were Born by Howard Schwartz (no relation) and illustrated by Kristina Swarner. It shows an angel reading from the Book of Secrets — and will be among the 10 all-new prompts in my next two-week online writing group, Imperfect Offerings.

The name of this first group of 2017 is in homage to Leonard Cohen, whose “forget your perfect offering” describes so well what we do in these groups — we forget to worry about being perfect, or even good. We dip into the books of secrets, each prompt something like a portal to things inside of us maybe we forgot were there.

This practice is so freeing, and we do it together in a space where nobody gets to be wrong, and everyone is encouraged to show up and “just” write.That little word, though, “just,” implies that this is no big deal. And it’s a kind of riddle, isn’t it?

On the one hand, that’s exactly the point — it is no big deal! What you write in these groups ultimately does not matter! The point is to sit your ass down for ten minutes at a pop and “just” write, to weaken your inner critic and shore up your ability to keep your hand moving. On the other hand, it totally matters. It matters because it’s the foundation for so much else.

I was chatting the other night with a single mama who is currently holding down three jobs. THREE JOBS. Can she write for 10 minutes a day? Yes. Will she? Only if she commits to it. Is it worth it? Well, that’s subjective. But from where I sit, 10 minutes is more than not 10 minutes. In fact, a few paragraphs a day over time adds up to many pages, pages that would not exist but for the act of “just” writing.

For the most part, my freewrites — which I do right alongside you in the group — don’t usually interconnect; they are one-offs, unrelated to any big goal or longer work. Maybe you’ve read this quote from Louis L’Amour before, but it bears sharing again: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

* * * * *

Why bother with prompts and a group, when you could sit down and write morning pages or in your journal?

Here’s what my friend Katrina Kenison said after she participated in one of my two-week groups:

“Never have I felt so befriended: by the page, by a group of fellow writers, by a teacher and coach. Jena provides a lovely mixture of inspiration, invitation, and validation. And then she throws in something else, something wonderful and ineffable which I can only describe as magic. For how else could a bunch of strangers become so intimate so quickly? Within this sacred circle, we came to trust not only one another, but also our own voices, our process, and most of all, the value of sharing our stories.”  

* * * * *

If you keep meaning to make time to write (but don’t), write but feel uninspired or lonely, or have been thinking about trying out a writing group but feel shy, please join me for these two weeks of practice. The pay-what-you-can offer will go to the first 10 people who sign up. I hope one of them is you!

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — Goethe

When Writing Is Your One Small Thing

photo-1469733881637-10c8de93222cHow can I not sit down to write this morning? Writing is what I do. And yet there are times when even to do this most natural thing in the world feels impossible. Now would be one of those times.

In the cacophony of responses to the election, my head literally shut down. As the polls closed on Tuesday night, a sudden sore throat went from irritated to angry in a matter of hours. (Coincidence? I think not.)

By yesterday, operating on little sleep and taking in so much unbearable news, trying to formulate my own thoughts was the last thing I felt I could do.  While some kick-ass people were already organizing a Million Women March on D.C., I was blowing my nose, thinking about how best to be there with and for my kids, and wanting to throw up knowing that nearly 50% of American voters stayed home on Tuesday. In a word, I kind of shut down.

I needed a minute, one day of mourning, before I could collect myself and fish around for my own voice again, however scratchy.

**

My two have responded in ways that match their wildly different personalities. Aviva texted me from school yesterday around lunchtime, saying she was falling asleep and had a pounding headache. Could I come pick her up? I waited a half hour or so, debating, then wrote her back and said yes. When we got home, she fixed herself something to eat, showered, got into bed, and slept for a record fourteen hours (oh, how the body knows). Last night, I looked at her Instagram account and saw that she’d posted some words there — “helpless, heartbroken, terrified, lost… the fight is not over… spread love instead of hate.”

Pearl was quick to point out that “we did the right thing” by voting for Hillary. In so many words, she just wants to “be a kid.” What I heard was her unspoken, underlying request for reassurance that we will be safe (Tuesday night she asked if we were going to be killed since we are Jewish).  I grapple with wanting to wrap myself around her and tell her of course she’s safe, with knowing that I can’t ultimately say that. If one of us is not free, none of us is free: This is something I will continue to find ways to weave into everyday conversations and actions as a parent.

Would that all kids could “just be kids,” and yet sadly this is not the case in America or in the world, for that matter. Questions of innocence and privilege and where the two intersect weigh on me, and I have no platitudes or easy answers. And I refuse to take Fox News’ advice and “suck it up.” Fuck you, Fox News.

**

Mani’s was a welcome voice in my world (as always):

“I spent a huge chunk of my life pushing down my feelings, and I can tell you, it doesn’t make you strong or brave. In time, it makes you sick. So today, I’m letting myself feel. Today I’m being in today, and guys, it is a really awful day. But it is the one we have. Self-care isn’t wrong. For anyone who just can’t today, and feels embarrassed, alone, or ashamed that you’re falling apart, I feel you. I’m with you.”

There are so many sources of connection, intelligence, heart, humor, and guidance — emotional, practical, political — that this would quickly become unwieldy if I attempted to name more than a handful.

“…we’ll fucking fight. (Roxy, there’s a time for this kind of language and it’s now.)” — Aaron Sorkin (in this letter to his teenage daughters)

“Luckily, real change, like a tree, grows from the bottom up, not the top down.” — Gloria Steinem

“Count me among the resistance.” — Charles Blow

” I can do nothing but love my friends and others and as Mr. Auden wrote, “show an affirming flame.'” — Doug Anderson, poet and Vietnam veteran

“Despair undermines the spirit, and the results of this election are an assault on our spirits. It is difficult not to feel despair. But despair erodes the spirit. Despair helps the Republicans because through despair we defeat ourselves. But I never heard my parents or anyone in the black community of the 1940s and 1950s express despair. Despair gives your adversary power over you. Despair defines you in relationship to your adversary. You do not want to be defined by a relationship that is detrimental to your well-being.” — Julius Lester

“(If you have no idea what to do today) Wash your face. Do the dishes. Put on fresh clothes. Kneel by your bed or your couch. Set the timer for five minutes. Let your head rest down. And breathe. // Notice how your heart feels. Notice how your shoulders feel. Let your belly soften. And notice what rises up. Where you’re frantic, where you’re quiet, where you are strong. // Staying with how we feel is revolutionary work because it helps us understand where we are drawn and called, and also where we are afraid. // Fear is the place where we can ask love to find us which also requires courage. But it can be as simple as saying out loud, I’m ready. // This is my country. This is your country. Let’s care enough to stay with our hearts and listen, so we can hear from the depths the direction our collective soul is calling us to go.” — Jen Lemen

Many people — in fact, many of the very people a Trump presidency will hurt the most — cannot take a day or two to regroup. And one of the things that has become more and more evident to me over the past weeks and days is that many of us don’t feel safe to even voice our beliefs and opinions  or share our personal stories publicly, for fear or fallout with family members or in the workplace.

**

This is the part where I can’t shake the feeling that there really is an “us” and a “them.” I know this is not very open-minded of me. I know we are all part of the human family. But I also know that 59,341,558 individuals cast their lot with a xenophobic, greedy, isolationist, misogynistic, criminal and demagogue and his alt-right cronies to represent them (not us, not me) is hard to choke down. I find myself looking at people in their cars while I’m out, or walking on the street, or standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, where I stopped with the kids this morning, wondering: Did you vote? Did you vote for him?

My dear friend Miv London, who is also a therapist and Buddhist teacher, challenges me to sit with this:

“I can no longer ignore the suffering that is all around me. So many of the people who support Trump have fallen through the cracks of our system, live impoverished, hopeless lives, feel neglected by their government, and easily fall prey to blame and hatred of perceived others. I am scared of them, I want to be angry and scornful of them, yet they, too, are part of this country. And, as the Buddhist teachings remind me, they, too, are human beings who want to be happy.”

On the other hand, 46.6% of eligible voters sat this one out, and 11,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla. How do we go forward from here? Do we weep or do we rise? Do we write and and speak out or do take a hot bath and crawl under the covers? Do we hunker down and ride this out, or do we fight like our lives depend on it? As President Obama has said this week, “they do.”

Get ready for a Jewish answer: Yes. (There is the answer, and the other hand. And the other other hand.)

Pirke Avot, or “Sayings of Our Fathers,” reminds us: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” In other words, we do all of these, but we do them knowingly. If you need some time to get your head around WTF just happened, take it. If making cookies and letting your neighbors and friends know your door is open brings you some solace and helps you get grounded, more power to you. If you have friends and family whose vote made your head explode, declare a boundary. Take care of yourself. We need you well.

**

One of the most heartening things for me in the last 24 hours has been the fact that people who’ve participated in my writing groups over the past two years, who might never before have dreamed of sharing their words publicly, are doing just that. From posts about how yesterday unfolded to poems about assault and survival to calls to action to introspective musings, we are connecting through our words and stories. We are reaching out. We are remembering who we are.

toni
I had a moment yesterday of wondering how on earth I will be able to work after this. My mind was just so foggy — Aviva even commented that my eyes looked foggy, something she’s never said before. Today, after a long Benadryl-assisted sleep, I may still be plowing through tissues, but I am not powerless. And neither are you.

I’m not here to offer up any prescriptions for being a social justice warrior or a good parent or a better writer. There are so many others out there who are brilliant at those things. And if you’re looking for a five-point to-do list, Michael Moore (who predicted Trump would win) has you covered.  My family on both sides came to this country four decades, give or take — before the Holocaust — and my layers of privilege are many. I am white and educated. I live in a blue state. I am also legally married to a woman and raising kids who are navigating their own identities. We have affordable health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without that.

So what can I offer? Oy. It’s easy to feel swallowed whole by forces unimaginably dark in this moment. But that is exactly how it begins — the silencing, the intimidation. “They” may have won, but the ultimate loss is if we lie down and let this be.

**

Deb Connolly Youngblood shared this idea on Facebook today:

“Like many of you, I’m filled with despair and frustration after this election. And also like many of you, I spent yesterday surrounded by people who needed me to be strong and practical and reassuring. My children are worried and confused, members of my staff are despondent, my friends and family all are overwhelmed and sad in a variety of ways. As I cast about in a sleep deprived state for ways to talk about these events, I landed on a strategy of action that I started promoting. What if we all, when ready, committed to doing one small thing that represents your values? These elections results don’t speak my values but there are a lot of things in my orbit that do. So what if I make a little extra time now to be sure that my values are emphasized, that they are just a little bit harder to miss? It doesn’t have to be major, it doesn’t have to be expensive or hugely time consuming, just one small thing. What if we all did that? Maybe that would add up to something.”

Here are some of  my small things:

  • Raise money for the Center for New Americans by writing #30poemsinnovember.
  • Walk in the woods.
  • Look people in the eye.
  • Sign petitions.
  • Make calls.
  • Bring my wife coffee in bed.
  • Read and educate myself.
  • Learn from the past.
  • Keep generating ideas for bringing people together, online and in real life, to write and connect.
  • Call my mother.
  • Practice.
  • Watch “Jeopardy!” with Pearl at night.
  • Encourage and empower my feminist teenage daughter.
  • Smash the racist patriarchy, one word, one blow at a time.

I know is that smashing the racist patriarchy is not a bullet point or a one-shot deal. We’ve come a long  way, baby — and we have a long way to go.

And I have to believe — have to, in order to face reality — that the only real defeat is to give up, and that is not something you will see me do. But not giving up doesn’t look any one way. The truth is, I’m not really sure what it looks like. I suppose it looks like this: Laptop, coffee, kitchen table. And that list I just wrote. It looks like continuing to subject my kids to mini-lectures about white privilege and mutual responsibility, and kissing my gorgeous wife in public, no matter what state we’re in.

**

When writing is one of your small things, the writing doesn’t have to be good. You don’t have to have anything figured out. You only have to show up and set a timer for 10 minutes and see what happens when you turn on the faucet. As Naomi Alderman writes, “Your subconscious will get used to the idea and will start to work like a reliable water spout.”

Let’s keep writing, alone and together. Writing enables connection to ourselves and each other. Writing fosters courage and community. It’s in that light that I encourage you to set your own timer today for ten minutes to write. Want a prompt? Here you go:

Tell us about one small thing.

If you’re feeling brave, share your words. We need them now. Email a friend. Read to your kids or co-worker. Take a deep breath and post something on Facebook you wouldn’t normally share. Share in the comments here or send your writing to me privately if you prefer. Submit to The Roar Sessions.

Our words are far more powerful than you might believe. I believe in us. I believe in you. Your voice matters. And I, for one, want to hear it. Yes, I am scared. Yes, I am angry. Yes, I feel stunned and sickened and appalled. But showing up here today is my best shot at getting back on my feet. Walk with me. Write with me. Let’s not give in or give up. As a white woman, I have to do my part in fixing this (all the more so knowing that that 53% of white women voted for Trump).

**

In a moment that is so unfathomably complicated, this is something you can do that may feel hard but is, in fact, simple: Start and keep going. One small thing, one small word at a time.

Too Cold for Ice Cream, Just Right for Writing

flavors

I saw this the other night while getting ice cream with Aviva, and it captures *exactly* how I feel about my website menu. Not all the groups are offered all the time!

So what IS currently on the menu?

If you’re itching to write and could use the encouragement and camaraderie of a supportive space to both hush your inner critic and keep you accountable to showing up, here are what scoops are available in the next two months. It might be getting chilly for ice cream, but it’s a perfect time of year to get your writing on.

1. Between the Sheets: Write Your Stories of Desire, Intimacy, and Pleasure
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Delicious choice.

This is a 2-week group I’m co-leading with my Inky Path partner, Cigdem Kobu. The theme has to do with stories of desire, intimacy, and pleasure — but like all prompts, they will take people in many directions. This group starts (and registration ends) TODAY! As in ALL of my groups: The writing is completely confidential, and the vibe is supportive and completely judgement-free. It’s $99.

inkypath.com/between-the-sheets-guided

2. On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s)
A new, experimental flavor, combining the tried-and-true tradition of writing prompts with swirls of exploring our identities, inside and out.

This group starts Monday, September 19 and ends Monday, October 10. Prompts will be 3 days/week, and all relate in some way to the many “parts” of ourselves, how the world sees us, what we’ve abandoned and what we want to reclaim or change. I’m super excited about it and would be so so thrilled for you all to join me. There are 3 payment “tiers” — $63, $126, and $189 — on a kind of honor system.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/on-the-corner-writing-at-the-intersections

4. What If You Knew?
A classic flavor that will whet your appetite for more. Writing, that is.

My next 2-week group, with the original 10 prompts I ever wrote. I’m offering this one again as a kind of 2-year anniversary of promptressing and doing this work in the world. If you’re looking to begin, deepen, or expand a writing practice, please join me October 10-21. The cost is $99, though I’m often told it’s priceless.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/2-week-writing-practice

3. Dive Into Poetry: October 1-31
If you’re like me, and want to sample everything, this might be the group for you.

A month-long poetry celebration, with 3x/week poems & images from me, to use as springboards + inspiration for your own poems! This group is straight-up great fun. No previous poetry-writing experience is required; in fact, the whole idea is to get to play. And it’s only $28.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/national-poetry-month

**

Writing together and freewriting are ways to blast through the toxicity of comparing ourselves to each other. To show up to yourself, to what’s true, to back then and to right now and to someday. To practice being good to yourself. To quiet the voices telling you “too much” and “not enough.” To see what happens when you don’t have to be good.

We’re all 32 flavors and then some.

Come have a taste. 

And how could I possibly resist wrapping this up without some Ani?

To the Lighthouse

lighthouse
It started with Airbnb. We looked in Maine, in New Hampshire, in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island. We looked in Brooklyn and Manhattan and Boston. We ooohed and aaahed over gorgeous whole houses we can’t afford, and read for fine print about pets and shared spaces. Finally, we found the one: A simple little house near a cove, in a fishing village known for its art and quarries and creativity and kindness and lighthouses. Three nights away, next week, just me and my love.

Big deal, you say? Why yes, it is a big deal. Six months ago, our Valentine’s Day getaway to The Porches Inn in Williamstown, MA left us positively giddy. We had such a wonderful time at Mass MoCA the next day, and felt like a million dollars having gotten out of dodge for the first time in almost 18 months, not counting hospital visits like this one. At the time, Mani was able to bring Ensure with us, so we didn’t have to worry about what she would eat.

You know how some foods, or even songs or shows or books, will forever remind you of being sick? Whether you had a flu or a serious or chronic illness, you might never want to see another bowl of red jello or rice cereal again. Well, that’s how Ensure is for Mani, I think; it saved her life and we are forever grateful for its calories and nourishment. But a few months ago, she started reacting to it, and now it’s off the table.

As we’re able to start getting out more, little by little — the kind of little by little that in a moment will become all of a sudden, a pattern so many things in life follow — the food thing is a bit tricky right now. But is that going to stop us? Give me a hell, no. We just can’t do hotels for the time being, or day trips. What we can do is rent a place with a kitchen, bring our pots and pans and coffeemaker and air purifier, find a grocery store when we get there, and set up shop. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do next Monday night until Thursday.

We looked at the calendar a few days ago and realized that next week is the ONLY week in the coming months when I will not have multiple writing groups going on. So many exciting things are coming up — both my own groups, two of which begin in August and a third in September (One Story: Ten FacetsWorrier to Warrior, and On the Corner: Writing at the Intersections), and the fantastic two-week writing groups I’ll be co-creating and co-facilitating each month this fall with my wonderful partner over at The Inky Path.

So I had a come-to-Jesus moment (are Jews allowed to have those?) when I realized that if I’m going to keep loving this work, and I really, really want to keep loving it — I need a break. Not a 24-hour break like Shabbat, but something away from home, with just myself and my wife and maybe a book or three. I almost never unplug, and my nervous system is feeling the effects of this. The whole “Physician, heal thyself” adage is so, so true; if I don’t cherish, protect, and nurture my own creativity, how on earth can I support others on their writing journeys?

I’ve been a bit jumpy lately, enough so that I’ve actually started writing about it in my head. Flashes of moments when I was nervous or anxious or scared from many different ages and stages of life, illuminated as if by heat lightning in a summer storm and just as quickly dark again. It’s as if my body is remembering something, or perhaps sending me a message: It doesn’t have to be this way. You are safe. Everything really is ok and will continue to be ok. You swam through scary moments and made it across. There’s enough money to pay the bills, so much love I have a surplus, and I can run and sing and swim and make love and form complete sentences and eat stale cheerios as a late-night snack and life is good. It is.

And.

There is more: I am risking burnout.

There’s a bit of pride swallowing in sharing this, but that’s exactly why I am writing it here (this I realize literally as I type the words). Or if not pride, fear perhaps — if I am not superwoman, will people still want to be in my writing groups? If I am not the energizer bunny, will people still want me to be their coach?

Oh, Jena. Really?

I know the answer, I do. But it’s still vulnerable, as if I’m “admitting” something by saying I am depleted at all. It’s like I’m afraid people — you — will somehow take it personally. Again, though, I write the words down and they stare back at me with a different message, and suddenly something like a cackle kicks up. It starts low then becomes howling laughter: You think it will matter if you disappear from Facebook and the internets for a few days? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

OK, OK. I get it. I get it! It’s completely ridiculous. Nobody thinks I’m superwoman! I’m the only one carrying that shit around, and newsflash: it’s bunk.

Tomorrow, four women will show up in Amherst to Unfurl for the weekend. Pearl went around with me doing some last-minute errands. A mason jar with newly sharpened colored pencils sits on the windowsill; a giant bag of M&Ms and a stack of inspiring writing books wait by the door. I will show up tomorrow as my whole self, my real self, my honest self. Not with a fake smile, not with a false front, and not with a sugarcoated story. I will write alongside the others as the timer counts down, about what we want, about trust and deep inner wisdom. I will eat heartily and laugh and oh! I just remembered I forgot to buy tissues. Note to self: Buy tissues.

And then on Monday, Mani and I will pack our bags and drive east to the ocean, to fill our noses with salt air. I’ve forgotten a bit what it’s like, to just be me — without kids, without interacting, without engaging with the world through screens big and small.

Nothing will fall apart if I do this; in fact, things may come together in beautiful, unanticipated ways. So I am going to go away with my love, to take pictures of lighthouses — and to remember that my own light will be brighter for the “going dark.”

Happy Half-Birthday to Me (and a Gift for You)

Lily
I could click “share” on Facebook all day long, and feel less and less connected.

Instead, I took my bike out of the garage and rode to town. I got a taco and a $2 lottery ticket. Then I rode home. Anger, envy, sadness, missing, confusion, and love — all perched on my handlebars like a motley crew of dark companions, offset by the chirping of birds and pretty houses and flowers growing around picket fences. It wasn’t until I got to my own old yellow house that I stopped and put down the kickstand. Put down my guard and my armor and opened my eyes again. These lilies, towering amidst weeds, growing by the curb in a kind of accidental garden.

Continue reading today’s newsletter, which includes other musings as well as a special gift for you: 14% off everything on the menu until midnight July 14 (my half-birthday!).

If you don’t already receive Fierce Encouragement for Writing + Lifesubscribe here and the next one will appear in your inbox.

Thank you for showing up, in all the ways.