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

Now Would Be a Good Time to Forget Your Perfect Offering

0q33pyk-axi-tina-rataj-berardFast and furious freewrite about worry. Here goes.

What worries me is worrying itself, and how it is a closed loop, a vicious cycle, a mindfuck and a body destroyer. The topics that typically worry me most are so familiar, so ubiquitous. They remind me of the dust beneath our bed. Just there. But if we would only move the entire frame away, sweeping and mopping would be a snap. Worrying about being able to focus and connect and keep writing and doing my work in this world.

I worry that all the noise will make it impossible to hear my own heart. I worry that I feel alienated by conversations people are having — people I once related to or felt connected to.

And so there is this sense of shifting: Who are my people?

And then remembering that the place where worry goes away for me is when I don’t worry about who my people are. If you read these words and they spark some sense of yes for you, if we care about each other, if we are both worried about Russia and Canadian geese dying in toxic lakes and the school-to-prison pipeline and corruption beyond imagination and how we never learned the native maps, how there was barely even a mention in school of life on this land before the British came and sought “freedom” on faulty ideals that excluded the very people who named the rivers, before random borders were established, when women’s voices were in the margins of the writing pads, kitchen subversives and secret abolitionists, if you are worried that we are in a state so severe that worrying will get us nowhere, if you know that we are already nowhere and thus, more here than ever, in a post-worrying world where speed leads to implosion, then you are my people.

If you feel alienated by the mainstream and question whether “mainstream” is even a thing and who gets to decide these things and no, I won’t share yet another Trump video, like the one where he’s saying “Man of the Year” has a much better ring to it than “Person of the Year” (don’t you think? YEAH roars his reality-show crowd, his minions) because sharing this shit changes nothing. But then I can’t resist because I’m so worked up, so I share. And then I delete. Repeat.

Getting worked up changes nothing and yet if you aren’t worked up, if you aren’t worrying, what are you doing? Who are you being?

There is no right or wrong way to be. And yet I write this, and even as the words come, there is a hollow ring to them. I can’t bear platitudes. I can’t bear language so inclusive that it could be misconstrued as apology for ignorance, inaction, or anything that enables this moment to go unchallenged. I worry about questions around judgment, factions, language police (on all sides), and so much noise, oh just so much noise.

Am I adding to the noise? Oh, but I must.

Now would be a good time to forget your perfect offering. Right, Mr. Cohen (may you rest in peace)?

Forget your perfect offering. Don’t let this rancid moment in history curl your heart into acrid dissolution. Tell me what you worry about. Tell me what your Sunday will bring. Tell me one beautiful thing about your life. Tell me which windows let in the most light. Tell me where you are on the map of the world. Tell me that this is not “spiritual bypassing” but real, real life, real connection, in this moment — and that that still counts. Tell me it still fucking counts.

And I will keep telling you, too: Everything counts. Your life, your words, your ways. Forget your perfect offering and keep being here with me.

Join me for my next two-week writing group: Imperfect Offerings, January 9-20, 2017. Come let the words out without having to get it right or prove a thing. This is a place for practice, not perfection. Register here

Bigger, Better, Different

bigger-better-differentNine years ago, I wrote these words:

This is why a regular writing practice matters. So much gets lost without one. So many moments, funny or evocative or upsetting or insightful, occur every single day. (Each day is a life.) When I don’t write them down, they join that grey matter of daily life; they become like dreams vaguely remembered but essentially gone, fragments down the river. That might be just as well for the most part, but I know that some jewels go by, too, that would be better caught in a sieve of words.

At Noyes Camp, where my sisters and I grew up dancing in the summers, there was a wide gravel path where we would search for garnets. We would walk slowly, straining to distinguish the gems from the pebbles, but the effort repaid us when we brushed off rocks to glean that slight ruddy gleaming. Same with daily moments. Lots of pebbles, gravel, rocks, dirt and debris – and some jewels, some gems that require a little work on our part. For me, writing is the act of slowly walking the path, walking the daily path of paying attention. Or maybe living is that act, and writing is what happens after I pick up the garnet, slip it in my pocket to bring home, then later, when I’m finally alone, take it out to examine it, to polish it, to rub it between my fingers like a talisman.

Nine years ago, I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to write, and was bursting with ideas and images and feelings. But they overwhelmed me. I felt like I had to figure out how to make sure ALL of them, every last one, got top billing. I hit “publish” over and over, as a way of forcing myself to write and share and live with the discomfort of now knowing it any of it was any good. This was before Facebook, for me anyway, and a new blog post literally went out into the ether. I knew my sister read my blog, and my mom, probably (she’d call if I said I was having a hard time). Beyond that, though, for the first 11 months, I think I got one comment. Maybe two. It was squirmy. But it was also saving me.

I called that original blog Bullseye, Baby! The tagline was, “A place to practice.” And by practice, I didn’t only mean practice writing. I meant practice as in writing and sharing — without allowing myself to succumb to the self-doubt and perfectionism that plagued me. I meant practice as in write and share and then sit on my hands, resisting the urge to read back over my words and fix them up, just a little bit. I meant write and share and sit on my hands and move on with my day because life was happening and by then, I knew this much: I didn’t want to miss it.

The Bullseye part? You can read that very first post, where I wrote about the significance, for me, of missing the mark and getting another chance. Hint: It’s a Jewish thing. And a Buddhist thing. And a me thing. And a life thing. As for the baby part of the name, it was literally in the middle of the night while I was nursing Pearl (who was nine months old) when I decided to start a blog. This blog.

I’ve thought about the fact that this January — the 7th, to be exact — will mark ten years of writing here. And true to life, I could never have connected the dots forward or known just what those seeds I was planting then would grow to become. I was a mama then as I am now, with kids ages 4 and 9 months. I was a week shy of 33. I was working part-time as a career counselor at the University of Vermont, rediscovering my work as a life coach, and missing writing. Desperately missing the writing. But also not sure where and how it fit into my life or my life fit into it. Like so many other things that whispered to me around the margins of my life, I was determined to listen hard.

And I did. I listened by showing up and writing. A lot. And posting, a lot. And not knowing — a lot of now knowing — whether any of it mattered. Every now and then, I’d bump into someone in town or at Aviva’s preschool, and they’d say they liked my blog. I found this shocking. Encouraging, but shocking.

At first, I read every new blog post to my then-husband. I did this so eagerly, with the earnestness of a novice (a quality I hope never to outgrow). He’d listen and tell me nice things. At some point, as I began writing more and more, I think I stopped doing this; I remember once him joking that he didn’t need to read it; he was living it. I don’t remember if I laughed at the joke.

It’s true, that what I wrote about was simply real life. People would ask, what’s your blog about? And I’d be like a deer in the headlights. Um, practice, I’d say. It was never a “parenting” blog, though I did write about my kids and how being present with them was its own practice. I returned to the mindfulness practices that had first drawn me in during college. I sat with so many questions.

Am I a real writer? How do I write a book? What would my book be about? Who am I in the world? How do I align what it feels like to be myself with the work I’m doing? How do I reach a lot of people with my writing? How do I support and empower women to be brave and to take up room in their lives? 

Just like when I took cello lessons in high school and wanted to play Vivaldi right away (I quit after less than a year, out of frustration and impatience), I jumped ahead — way ahead — to the idea of writing a book. My life felt like a puzzle I couldn’t for the life of me quite put together. I wanted so badly to be able to see the whole of it, and I couldn’t. I could only see what was in front of me — dinner, dishes, work, walks, neighbors, Netflix, yoga, a run, closet smoking, Shabbat candles, an insistent need to be alone, a loving marriage, friends… and something that was missing.

I was missing. I was, in some way beyond my own peripheral vision, the missing piece. The hub on the wheel. The heartbeat of my own life was somewhere else, and I was longing to be able to hear it.

So I wrote and kept writing. I worked and loved and read books to myself and read books to my kids. I wrote about them, I wrote about showing up. I wrote about depression and the layers and the falling apart.

Eventually, I wrote my way right into my life. Which also meant right out of my life. It was nothing I expected and everything I’d asked for. It was open heart surgery without anesthesia. It was grief and rage and elation and disbelief. It was sex and lies and that gmail account I hadn’t told him about. I became someone I didn’t recognize, and yet for the first time, I saw my own reflection and thought: There you are.

There was a long stretch — two or three years maybe — when I thought my blog would become a book. I printed out hundreds of posts. I categorized them and labeled them. I used different color pens and sticky notes and hijacked an entire wall of our then-house. I was on a first-name basis with the guy at the UPS store on South Winooski, where I went to print draft after draft. But that was all before. Before my life showed me what only life can: The story I was so diligently trying to write was way, WAY bigger than a bunch of blog posts. It was me. It was a life.

There are a million other “parts” I could include here, but instead, I’m asking myself: Why am I sharing all of this tonight?

It has to do with the jewels, the ones I shared with you earlier, from one of those early posts. I wrote that in the summer of 2007. Pearl was two. Aviva was racing towards five. I was trying, trying so hard to “find myself.” And writing — showing up here — was one of the ways I knew how to do that.

We can’t always see what’s working, just as we can’t always see what’s not working. We can only keep showing up and paying attention. Around the same time that I started blogging, a wonderful supervisor, Ada, gently pointed out to me that I seemed always to be needing something to be bigger, better, or different. “Bigger, better, different” became a kind of shorthand for me — part hunting trap and part lighthouse, first stopping me in my tracks, then pointing me back to safe harbor.

The thing is, Ada (thanks, Ada!) was right. That restlessness had become so synonymous with my being that it has taken a long time to get to know it well enough to not be its prey. Writing didn’t change that. Coming out didn’t change that. Getting divorced didn’t change it, changing jobs and states and homes didn’t change it, and getting remarried didn’t change it. And it wouldn’t be true to say I don’t still get that urge — in the same way I still get the urge to smoke. The difference is that I don’t act on it, at least not consciously. And when I see that I’m slipping down that slope, I can usually grab onto reality at least a bit more quickly than before.

All of this is to say: When I write things here about practice, about showing up, and about “keep going,” this is where I’m coming from. Years and years (and years) of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Epic meltdowns (and I don’t mean the kids’, though there have certainly been those, too). A stunningly beautiful love story that started with falling in love with myself — just as Mani predicted, quite some time before she and I had any inkling we’d wind up sharing the rest of our lives.

You don’t have to know. Just keep listening. And if writing’s your way of picking up the jewels, please keep writing. It doesn’t have to good, you don’t have to write a book, and you don’t need  zillion readers. Just one or two who really, really fucking care will do.

You’re Grounded

Photo: Matthew Smith

Photo: Matthew Smith

From crushed velvet to Krishna Das tickets… I’m starting to think about Mani’s birthday. It’s both fun and problematic to want to give someone THE WHOLE WORLD. She turns 39 the day after our 2nd anniversary, and I think we’re also going to try for another weekend getaway the last weekend of September.

The truth is, I started this as a Facebook post but it’s really about being grounded. Oh, I love feeling grounded. But this morning, the only image that came to mind was of a plane. A grounded flight. Bummer. A plane that cannot take off. A plane that is stuck on the ground. A plane that will not be transporting you somewhere new, so there you are stuck in the airport for who knows how long. You go to the bookstore and look at the shelves and think about all those people who’ve written and published books. You being me, me being the plane.

Yes, this morning, I got bowled over by ungroundedness. By letting things shift and change. By not knowing exactly how things will go. I want to busy myself with thinking about Mani’s birthday and the truth is I’m down today, a little sad, a little unsure, a little needing something I’m not saying which is to win the $1,000 a week for life scratch ticket, I bought 2 of them today after riding my bike up to school to lock up Pearl’s bike, since she forgot the lock.

I feel ungrounded in my freewrite but at this point I’m just going with it rather than ditching it and coming back to write something better later. There might not be a better. There might not be a later.

What if, what if. That’s like the bird call of ungroundedness. But sometimes the plane not taking off might actually be the best thing ever, because otherwise you know, you never would’ve met that amazing person who changed your life who was also stuck in the airport that day. I love stories like that.

My what ifs so often come down to money, and then it’s easy to think, oh, it’s nice having structure and colleagues and all the grass is greener stuff. But then I remember, no, it wasn’t nicer. What’s nicer, what’s grounding, is hearing Ben Sollee playing in the other room, where she’s back on her feet at least for part of the day, and I’m sitting here typing and trusting and soon will pick Aviva up at the bus after her first day of 8th grade which is the beginning of the last year of middle school.

What’s grounding is being their mama. What’s grounding is not being scared, or being scared but feeling for what’s solid and here, letting her give me reiki, then taking a rest together because we want to and we can. What’s grounding is a good cry and telling the truth and being loved. Still being loved, even then. Especially then.

**

This was today’s 10-minute freewrite from my current 2-week writing group. From time to time I like sharing these here, because this is where I practice not only writing but showing up — unedited and imperfect and real. (I did add paragraph breaks and a few italics.) 

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.