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

5 Gifts Under $50 (for You & the Writers You Love)

blessingIf you’re anything like some people I know and love, you’ve left some of your holiday shopping for the last minute — or (gasp) neglected to get something special for your own beautiful self!

I’ve assembled this quick and dirty list of writing-related gifts for you and/or the writer(s) you love, in case you’re looking for something but didn’t quite know what it was until you did.

Please note: If you are purchasing any of the items below as gifts, be sure to contact me with the recipient’s information. From my home to yours: Happy Merry. 

30-minute coaching session $50

13558921_10209162731121933_2635687224181490059_oWrestling with a piece of writing? Having trouble getting out of your head? So beaten up by the state of the world that you just can’t even? Time to get back in the ring, my friend. A 30-minute call completely devoted to your creative juices. Purchase + contact me to schedule.  

Dive Into Poetry + Jena’s new book, “Why I Was Late for Our Meeting” $49

Roar-Sessions-First-BirthdayHave your cake and eat it, too! Spend a month *playing* with poetry AND pre-order a personally inscribed and signed copy of Jena’s newest collection of poems to read at your leisure. Purchase.

10 Self-Paced Writing Prompts $36

10-daysEvery day for 10 days — on the start date and time of day of your choosing — receive a beautiful and original prompt in your inbox. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and start writing. That’s all there is to igniting or deepening your practice — at your own pace. Purchase.

Dive Into Poetry – January 2017 $31

diveA month-long online poetry party, for the people, by the people, and of the people. (Hint: You are the people!) No experience or prerequisites — this group is low stakes, super supportive, and loads of fun. Register.

“Don’t Miss This” and “The Inside of Out” $19.90 each

dont-miss-thisJena’s first book, “Don’t Miss This,” traces a fierce 15-year journey through marriage, motherhood, and coming out — when she risked everything she knew in order to claim what she had denied for so long: herself. Purchase.

inside-of-outBlending poetry and prose, the personal and political, and the ordinary with a 30,000-foot view, “The Inside of Out” is an intimate look at what happens over the course of a year, after life falls apart and reconfigures again. A beautiful gift for anyone who has ever wished love could be easy. Purchase.

“Why I Was Late for Our Meeting” $18

coverJena’s new collection of 50 poems caps off a year of darkness with these words: “The sun’s up there somewhere.” This book is equal parts invitation, prayer, protest, and love song to the pain and beauty of humanity and everyday life. Inscribed and signed for you or the beloved recipient of your choice. Purchase.

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting Fiction

chandelierAre you tired of your own stories? Keep writing about the same stuff? I get it! But guess what?

It’s All Made Up

One of the stories I tell about myself is that I suck at fiction writing.*

But from time to time, I do it anyway. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s freeing. It’s intriguing.

Whether you suck at fiction writing or just want an infusion of prompted inspiration and the camaraderie of a small group of readers, this new group’s just for you.

JOIN ME FOR three weeks of freewriting fiction.

Before I get into the details, let me tell you the back story.

***

“Want to go to an open house?” Aviva had just hopped in the car after an appointment one Saturday morning. We sat in the idling car not a block away from the realty sign that had caught my eye. “Ummmm, sure?”

We turned onto Sparrow Road and saw the “For Sale” sign about halfway down the dead-end street. It was a pale pink Victorian with white trim. As we reached the front door, a disembodied male voice called us to come inside.

“Hi, I’m Ross,” said the lanky realtor, who gestured first toward himself and then at the living room, as if introducing an invisible friend at his side. A vase of long-stemmed red tulips on a side table by the bay windows caught my eye. I introduced myself and my daughter as he handed us an info sheet. Though I’m not in a position to buy a house at the moment, somehow it didn’t feel entirely fake to be there. Well, ok, maybe it did. But I work my ass off, and a girl can dream.

Ross invited us to look around and said he’d be available for any questions. Aviva and I moved through the sitting room with the tulips and the crystal chandelier, then down a hallway that led to a cozy sunroom. The wood floors looked smooth and worn, like they had stories of their own to tell. Threadbare, faded cotton blankets in layers lent the south-facing daybed the appearance of a hundred-year nap. I could see myself falling asleep there like a cat.

When we stepped up into the adjoining kitchen, I think we gasped simultaneously. Holy mother of God, it was magazine-worthy: Funky, old, and rustic meets modern, hipster, and elegant. Adjoining deep porcelain sinks, exposed brick, a big attached pantry, windows overlooking the deep backyard. “If this house could talk…” I thought to myself, listening for its whispering bones as we made our way upstairs.

Four smallish bedrooms and what was clearly a new half-bath greeted us, all situated around a generous landing with a subtle slope.  Aviva and I immediately sussed out who would get which room, and I zeroed in on the smallest one in the back of the house as my Virginia Woolf space. A room of my own is among the things I miss most about owning a home with some “extra” space, and it remains high on my list of “someday” house wishes.

Mind you, I write all of this from the warmth of my kitchen in a beautifully maintained and cozy three-bedroom apartment; we have great neighbors, an awesome landlord, and more than enough room. So it’s not that I’m “complaining” as much as I’m letting my imagination of its leash. And when I do that, oh mama does she ever like to run free and sniff far. The craziest things catch her fancy, and sometimes I can’t find my special whistle that calls her home. She always comes back eventually, though.

Aviva and I completed our tour with dropped jaws — the house had a fully heated, two-story STUDIO space behind it that our accountant would love (perfect for the writing, yoga, and meditation workshops and retreats Mani and I will lead together!). We’d learned from Ross that the house was, as of that very morning, under contract. It was ridiculous that I felt disappointed, as I have neither the paperwork nor the down payment to make an offer. But rational emotions fled the scene as I looked around one last time, wistful that we’d never call this place “home.”

It took a few days before my imagination came bounding back home from her adventures. I’d been sitting around, just a tiny bit mopey maybe, working my way back to gratitude for the home we have rather than focusing on the one we don’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel  crazy thankful and amazed that we are able to pay rent here, cover our bills, and even have the ability to save, spend, and give away a little each month. The fact that my work as a promptress and writing coach afford us the ability to live in what is not an inexpensive town is a true blessing, one of the biggest of my life.

I went from bummed to inspired as I looked through the photos I’d taken during the open house.

Narrow closets covered in peeling wallpaper.
A single old-fashioned shoe, left behind.
The blur of exposed brick.
A circle of tree stumps.
An old cupboard.
A rusty letterbox.

Anything could happen in these rooms.

These fragments from fake house hunting could call anyone’s imagination in so many different directions — which is why I decided to use them for a brand new writing group. Because creating fictional stories sounds like way more fun than wanting what we don’t have or getting stuck telling the same stories we already know inside out.

Doesn’t it?

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting fiction

A three-week online writing group for people who love fiction and a) are totally intimidated by writing it and/or b) could use an infusion of inspiration and good company on your writing journey.

WHAT WILL WE WRITE ABOUT? 

I have no idea. Anything could happen! That is kind of the point.

Through a combination of guided freewriting and other creative exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’ll try our hands at freewriting fiction three times a week for three weeks. Working with a trusty timer (10 minutes per freewrite) and evocative visual prompts, we’ll let our imaginations take the lead, running roughshod over our well-worn true stories and introducing us to moments, characters, and incidents we never before dreamed up, much less wrote down.

*What if I suck at it?

Sucking will not only be acceptable in this group; we will CELEBRATE SUCKING. The goal will be to loosen up the reigns and make some shit up, without worrying about submitting and publishing, without stressing about who’s better than us, and with good cheer and great fun.

group participation

There will be TWO sections of this group, each limited to TWELVE participants. These groups will be top-secret, so you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing what goes on in that wild imagination of yours. Participation is optional, but it’s also super fun so I hope you’ll go for it.

will i get feedback?

Yes and no. We won’t be focused on craft so much as generous reflection and encouraging comments on each other’s forays into made-up scenes and scenarios. That said, if you find that you want feedback on a specific aspect of any of your writing, you are welcome to ask for it.

DATES:

Monday, November 14 — Friday, December 2

COST:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, I’m once again offering three different (confidential) payment tiers, based completely on the honor system. Please choose according to an honest self-assessment:

  • Tier 1: Folks who have to scrimp, squirrel, and save to participate in this kind of group.
  • Tier 2: Anyone who’s moderately comfortable and has some disposable income.
  • Tier 3: Those of you who have the ability and desire to pay it forward.

:: $63 ::
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:: $126 ::
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:: $189 ::btn_buynow_lg
We are going to have so much fun in these groups. Join me!

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.

On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s) (NEW GROUP!)

I live on the corner of
gay pride and white privilege
Shabbat Shalom and Hear Me Roar
cheerleader and saboteur
working mama, entrepreneur

I live on the corner of
prolific and bone dry
passionate and tongue-tied
of please and no, thank you
of bite and I’ll spank you…

I live on the corner of
pogrom and protest
straight As, nuclear families
of divorced and remarried
polite and contrary

I live on the corner of
tightly wound and free spirit
of fear and Just Do It
petite and dysmorphic
Soul Sister, Third Daughter

I live on the corner of
so many streets
traffic’s nonstop but nobody beeps
there’s no one to tell me to stop or to go
and that’s why I write, ’cause how else will I know?

On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s)

On-the-Corner-lg

Photo: Molly Porter

We all stand at the corner of so many identities. “Parts” of ourselves — some embraced and some off-limits, some seen and some invisible, some conditioned and some chosen.

Join me this fall for a brand new four-week writing group.

Who we feel ourselves to be, how the world see us, and ultimately what we choose to bring (and have no choice about bringing) with us into our daily lives — these have a huge impact not only on our own experience of segmentation and/or wholeness, but on those around us, be they family, coworkers, community members, or the world at large.

In a cultural and political climate that has us contend daily with questions of authenticity, bias and prejudice — our own and others’ — and how to cultivate kindness and acceptance while acknowledging and respecting our wildly different selves, I believe that writing has the power to help us get to know ourselves, and thus each other, better.

What Will We Write About? 

Through a combination of guided freewriting and other creative exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’ll explore our many identities in a safe, secret space where nobody gets to be wrong.

Week One

On the Corner :: Naming all the cross-streets
* We’ve Lost Touch :: Reconnecting with what was never lost
Forbidden Fruit :: Getting cozy with what you cast out

Week Two

* The Surface of Things :: How the world sees you
In the Mirror :: How you see yourself
I Am From :: Naming and claiming your sources

Week Three

* True or False :: Early messages you believed or doubted
* Shake It Up :: Exploring the change you want to see
* Be the Change :: Moving towards action and embodiment

Week Four

* Completion and Staying Connected

Dates:

Monday, September 19 — Friday, October 14

Cost:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, I’m offering three different (confidential) payment tiers, based completely on the honor system. Please choose according to an honest self-assessment:

  • Tier 1: Folks who have to scrimp, squirrel, and save to participate in this kind of group.
  • Tier 2: Anyone who’s moderately comfortable and has some disposable income.
  • Tier 3: Those of you who have the ability and desire to pay it forward.

:: $63 ::
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:: $126 ::
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:: $189 ::
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