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.

Fall 2017: What’s on the Radar for Your Writing + Life?

Picture this: You’ve been circling around for some time now, and feel ready to tune into air traffic control for the best place to land your words on a page. Maybe you’re a bit nervous and could use some reassurance that indeed, you can do this.

Below, you’ll find several landing strips of varying lengths. What they all have in common is this: Fierce encouragement and gentle guidance as you steer your aircraft to a safe landing. 

We may write by ourselves, but we get to land together and there are so many ways to do just that! Have a look at what’s on the radar this fall, and know that you belong on this sacred ground of the writing life.

The Short + Sweet Landing Pad

Two-week online writing groups are perfect for anyone who wants to begin or reboot a writing practice. With a new prompt each morning and by setting a timer for 10 minutes a day, we give ourselves carte blanche permission to write “the worst Junk in America” (Natalie Goldberg’s timeless words). Kick the inner critic out of the cockpit and remember why you love writing in the first place.

Next group: “Over Our Heads” | November 6-17 | $99 | Register
Size limit: 12

Ten-week online writing groups are similar to the above, but at a slower pace. Prompts land in your inbox on Monday mornings, and you have all week to share your words with your writing comrades.

Next group: “Over Our Heads” | November 27, 2017 – February 2, 2018 | $108 | Register
Size Limit: 12

The Long and Leisurely Landing, for Women Only

Jewels on the Path is designed for a small number of women who want to delve more deeply into a particular writing project or goal. Whether it’s resurrecting a blog or making steady progress on a manuscript, this group will provide a steady rhythm for your work to unfold and provide accountability and friendship as you deepen your own creative process. Women writers only.

WINTER 2018 : 
Preregistration is open for the Winter 2018 Session (January 8-March 30): Three options: $126/$249/$449 per month | Preregister
Size limit: 12

The Water Landing

Dive Into Poetry is a quarterly pool party where lapsed poets, experienced poets, and poetry lovers get to convene in a fabulously inclusive and playful space for an entire month of practice. Now in its seventh season, this group remains an all-time favorite gathering of old and new friends.

Next group: January 1-31, 2018 | $31 /$62 /$93 | Register
No size limit

The Room of Your Own Landing

The Unfurl Retreat returns to Amherst, MA June 22-24, 2018. Details Coming Soon!

The Real-Time Landing Strip

JUST WRITE  is a 6-week, 6-person weekly Zoom-based group where we will write together and comment on each other’s words in real time.  Two private coaching calls and an intimate setting all make this a particularly powerful chance to chip away at perfectionism and get some drafts written that might otherwise never see the page. 

DATES and  Registration page coming soon | Contact me to to be notified 

Size limit: 6

Year-Round Ways to Keep Your Writing + Life Grounded

Get Your Muse On is a year-round private community where we love the shit out of each other. In this secret Facebook group, each week includes intention setting, exclusive writing prompts, and invitations to reflect on what we’re learning as we go.

Always open | $25 monthly or $250 annually| Register
No size limit

Private Coaching | From a single session to an ongoing relationship entirely devoted to your growth as a human who writes, see what opens up when you make time to explore your fears, ideas, goals, and stumbling blocks.

Packages and a la carte options | Sign up here

Manuscript development + editing | If you have a manuscript-in-progress and want a partner who will bring fresh eyes, perspective, suggestions, and edits to help you bring it to completion, I’d love to hear from you. I have a successful track record of working with authors who’ve self-published collections of poems, creative nonfiction, and novels, and generally only work with one editing client at a time. Let’s discuss your project and see if it’s a good fit.

Cost customized to each client | Contact me to schedule a time to chat!

A Note About Money + Mutual Responsibility

Please note that if money is a barrier, I make every effort to work with you to make all of this accessible no matter your income bracket or current financial situation. Just ask me and we’ll see what we can work out together.

If you would like to contribute to the ongoing Community Writers Fund, which makes it possible for me to offer fully-funded spots to lower-income individuals for whom groups like these are unaffordable, you can do so here.

In addition, every time someone signs up for any of my groups, I donate an item to a local food bank.

“Thank you for the compassionate, caring and safe space you hold here for me, for all of us here, to tell the hard stories. I know it’s how I will grow.”~ Juli Lyons

“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.” ~ Katrina Kenison

Yoga + Writing: Parallel Practices


Each time she said “yoga,” I substituted “writing.”

“Don’t do it with great willpower, but with great affection.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

“I don’t know what happened to my grit,” she said.

My coaching client was referring to the passion and will she remembered having as a much younger woman. She’s been working on a children’s book on and off for years now. But after a health scare last summer, she shelved it completely for reasons that didn’t even make sense to her. What those are don’t matter; we were talking now, because she wanted to get back to the writing. Back to some semblance of discipline and grit, but in ways that reflect who she is now at 50, not who she was then, at, say, 20.

This woman, whose writing and being I adore, is also a mom and a yoga teacher.

I asked her about her yoga practice. What gets her back to the mat after a hiatus? She thought about this and then responded: “I know what I need to do.”

As an aside: These are words that make a coach jump out of her seat to do a happy dance before further inquiry.

Then I asked her to tell me more. And she talked about how B.K.S. Iyengar, whose tradition of yoga she follows, instructed his students to do just three poses. Three poses constitutes a practice. I mentioned Mani’s “rule,” which it to simply “get on the mat” once a day.

Once there, anything goes; even if she rolls it right back up, if she gets on the mat once a day, she can know that she showed up. Most times, of course, once you’re on the mat, you might as well move around a bit. Three poses often opens to a longer practice, because the body is so hungry for breath and length and movement, and the spirit for the sheer relief of not having to be anywhere else.

So, I asked her, what “three poses” are your writing equivalent? In other words, what is the bare minimum you must commit to in order to know that you’re showing up to your practice and your intention of returning to this book?

She considered this for a few minutes.

Number one, she said: “Take your seat.”

Sound easy enough, but I would argue that this may in fact be the hardest part of writing. Just sitting down. You can circle the wagons all damn day, or you can take your seat. You can open and close the fridge door 20 times, or you can take your seat. You can text your BFF, run errands, watch Netflix, obsess about the news for good reason, or just scroll on Facebook, or you can take your seat.

I do all of the above — the avoidance, the fridge the circling like a dog trying to find that absolute most perfect spot. It’s fine. As long as you eventually TAKE YOUR SEAT.

Number two, she said: “Write one scene.”

Mind you, we talked about what this means. Will she measure a “scene” by word count or number of pages or because she has a predetermined list of scenes that remain unwritten? Yes. In other words, she is building in freedom to the plan. “Scene” is flexible. The important thing at this stage is to write one, whether it’s a paragraph or five pages.

And last but not least, number three, which addresses what to do on days when number two isn’t happening.

In other words, what about when she takes her seat but doesn’t know what to write? We all know that these moments are like surprise parties for our inner critics, with ribbons and balloons and pizza and cake. Every inner critic I’ve ever met will happily waltz through that door, get on her soapbox, and proceed to give a speech we’ve heard a thousand times. You know the one? About how we don’t really know what we’re doing, and this book probably isn’t even going anywhere, and every time you try some great new plan (like “three poses”), the whole thing unravels, and who do you think you are anyway?

STOP. That is NOT how this is going to go, sister.

Nope. Instead, step three, or “pose” three, is this: Come up with a reminder, an affirmation if you will. For example: “Don’t panic. The story always finds you.”

You have permission not always to know what’s next. Explore. Meander. Set a timer and freewrite without stopping for 10 minutes. Everything counts, and sometimes it’s from staying inside of these “not knowing” times that something new comes through. It requires faith and patience. And, come to think of it, grit.

I emailed her a few days later to say hi, and to ask her permission to write about our conversation. I also asked if she’d started the new routine yet. Here’s what she wrote:

“And yes, the ship has set sail. Friday I created a ‘not etched in stone’ weekly schedule that encompasses everything: writing, yoga, meditation, walking dogs, cleaning toilets. Lots of flexibility built into it, so I can shuffle things around when needed. But writing… writing comes first.”


Just for fun: What are your three poses?

If you’re looking for your grit or can’t get yourself to sit and write on a regular basis, take a look around. What works in some other area of your life? How can you transpose that and come up with something to try? If you practice yoga, what do you know about your time on the mat that might in fact relate to your time with your notebook (or wherever you face down the unknown)?

PART 2: Props / Prompts

Some people see yoga props and writing prompts as the tools of novices.

“The fewer our demands on life, the greater our ability to see its bounty.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Saturday morning. Mani and I got up at our usual 6:30am time. When her alarm went off, I could barely open my eyes. In a weird role reversal, she was chipper and wide awake and greeted me with a kiss. “Good morning! Shabbat Shalom, darling!”

“It’s Shabbat,” I groaned, covering my head with the pillow. A nice way of saying, WTF why are we awake? But then I took a long, hot shower while she prepped our Very Strong Coffee, and I joined her in the kitchen somewhat more awake.

Sitting at the table with our morning coffee has been one of the biggest rewards of our new daily schedule. Even though I work at home and we see each other all day long, there’s something special about intentionally beginning the day together this way, and we tend to have interested, meandering conversations.

This one somehow went in the direction of yoga. Mani mentioned that when she couldn’t fall asleep right away the night before, she’d “pinned” a bunch of Iyengar quotes to her Yoga Life board on Pinterest.

“That’s so crazy,” I told her, mentioning the Iyengar reference during a coaching call last week. And from there, somehow we were off and running. We got to talking about props, and because I am a word dork, I lit up at realizing that the word “prop” fits neatly inside the word “prompt.”

Some people see yoga props and writing prompts as the tools of novices. I think of these rather as useful tools to help the practitioner meet the blank page or enter a pose, supports to use for gradually growing stronger and going deeper.

“Until one day…” a beloved yoga teacher of mine used to say, before showing us the “full expression” of the pose (if she herself had mastered it). I can still hear her soothing, steady voice in my ear. “Until one day your practice is so steady and strong that you don’t use a prop/prompt.”

I always loved that “one day” thing. So different from the elusive “someday,” it implies something more concrete and even inevitable. A faith, a confidence. One day you will do this, whether that day is next month or not in this lifetime.

Mani started reading me Iyengar quote after Iyengar quote. Each time she said “yoga,” I substituted “writing.” Then I started scribbling quotes and notes like crazy on unlined paper. We finished our coffee. A new writing group was born.

Part 3: The Republic of the Body: A New Writing Group, May 1-26

“Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body. This love must radiate from you to others.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

It doesn’t matter how sporadic and erratic my practice gets. The mat forgives me every time. So does the blank page.

Details + Registration


Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging with a Gift for YOU


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.

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.