Power. Money. Success.

Morning walk. Sunrise. Moonset. A chat with the universe. Considering the new year and my lack of interest in resolutions. And contemplating the little internet game I did yesterday — one of those word search thingys where the first three words you see are your words for the year.

Mine were: Power. Money. Success.

For real, that’s what I saw.

Mind you, right after that I saw beauty, health, and humor. But still, there was no denying it.

Now, you could rightfully say that kind of thing is silly and meaningless, and maybe it is.

And what I noticed was that I immediately thought, oh no. Power, money, success. Those are bad. That’s not what I should see or choose or want.

Then another thought immediately after that one: Why the hell not?

Staci Jordan Shelton writes and teaches a lot about binaries, and how they keep us small in our thinking and our actions. My internal response to those three words made me think of her wisdom.

Power, money, success — these are not “bad.” In fact, they are neutral. They are not the opposite of things that are culturally more agreeable, such as compassion, kindness, and gratitude. But that’s what we do — we pit things against each other and create false and arbitrary judgments rather than moving into curiosity.

So, I got curious. What could and would it feel like to quietly claim these words? What if power, money, and success were valuable and worthy goals? What if having goals did not have to equal striving and keeping up? What if inner and outer could work in concert with each other, smashing binaries and taking up more room in the world — for good?

That last bit is important. Power, money, success — these are not good or bad, but how we inhabit them, how we can lose ourselves to them, how we demonize or worship them, now that’s where the problems start.

But look at people doing amazing things with their power, with their money — and the whole idea that we are as afraid, perhaps more, of success as we are of failure comes to mind.

I have no definitive thing to say about this, only that I’m intrigued. I’ve spent so long shying away from words like these. Maybe it’s time to move closer to them, to ask them questions, to see what they have to teach me. Maybe not. We’ll see.

By the time I got home from my walk, I was thinking about quiet power. And how we equate noise with power, when really, you can be quietly powerful. You can show up powerfully in your days, away from the glare of social media, and have so many kinds of experiences.

We live in a bizarre culture of “influencers” and megalomaniacs. It’s so much more interesting out here in the world, with its morning light and its bus drivers and its handwritten notes and its conversations, the ones where you hash things out and don’t come closer to closure but maybe touch on something even better — connection.

I’m going to hang out here in the quiet some more, paying attention to what wants to be written, to shoulders that need squeezing, to snoring dogs and what happens we look beyond blame and defensive posturing.

I don’t know how healing happens, but I think there’s something to this, this power, money, success thing, this surprising yourself thing, this experimenting with different ways of being in the world.

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Spend 2019 exploring a single word each week:

Register for Truth: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

Writing Without the Woo

Photo: Erik Witsoe

I just shared the last greeting and invitation of the fall session with my Jewels on the Path group. Closing out 16 weeks of witnessing writing + life concurrently unfolding with a dozen women around the country leaves me… verklempt.

This week, I asked folks to share thoughts on this phrase: “I am a writer.” You’d be amazed at how many people who write are reluctant to claim this, reserve it for the “real” writers who are well-known, widely published, making money, yadda yadda.

The responses were deeply moving.

One person crossed a threshold recently, when she shared a deeply personal piece outside of our group with her wider community — and found that the reactions to her words were affirming, far-reaching, and intimate all at once.

Another shared this: “I feel more like a writer with every passing week.”

From free-range lists of 11 things to installments of memoirs-in-progress to freewrites exploring the here and now to weeks when life happened and writing did not, the courage to keep meeting the blank page, to keep going, to share and be seen, to ask for the kind of feedback that would most serve the process rather than most “improve” the writing — all of this has filled a secret Facebook group and made it into a living, breathing space of community and creativity.

Whew.

Nick Cave writes, “The artistic process seems to be mythologized quite a lot into something far greater than it actually is. It is just hard labor.”

I would tend to agree with this. When you strip away the woo, what’s left?

Sitting down, showing up, starting. I do believe in mystery, but I also believe that there is no substitute for simply doing the work. It’s where all of the learning happens. It’s where we get to challenge the things we thought about ourselves, about our writing, about our stories, about what’s possible.

To my Jewels, and to everyone who has practiced writing with me this year, thank you.

To you, friends who witness my own process of showing up and being a real life person who writes, thank you for being on the other side of the words, and for your steady kindness and encouragement.

Let’s keep being here with and for each other in 2019.

Looking for a safe haven for your writing practice and process in the new year?

There are THREE SPOTS remaining for the next session of Jewels on the Path, a 16-week intensive for female-identified and non-binary writers, beginning January 7, 2019. Come learn more or feel free to contact me with questions.

Bittersweet


Three years ago, I started a membership group called Get Your Muse On. At its peak, it had about 40 members who actively shared weekly intentions, freewrites, and other creative shenanigans. Friendships blossomed, confidence deepened, and many a birthday limerick has been shared.

After a few different incarnatons, I made a decision this week to officially retire this group. I closed its doors to new members quite a while back, and those who remain are close-knit and committed to staying connected. But the participation and engagement aren’t what they were and rather than trying to return to something that had its day, letting it simply be what it is — a sweet gathering place for friends who love writing — seemed like the next right step.

But letting go and allowing change to happen is not easy for me. I suspect this is true for many of us. It’s bittersweet, maybe a little scary even, to acknowledge that a thing has run its course.

As we move towards the solstice and new year, I’m feeling this energy so intensely. I’ve heard from more than one person in the past few days that they are feeling exhausted, moody, tapped out. The holiday season can drain our wallets and our spirits, as much as it’s supposed to fill our hearts with joy and sugarplums.

I was chatting with a teacher of Pearl’s last night about her holiday plans. She said her grown kids have very different food preferences, so she didn’t yet know what kind of meal she might prepare on Christmas day with them. I said something about images of families sitting down to eat, everyone at a table — how images like that can be so… she finished my sentence for me: Oppressive.

Yes. Images like that invariably make us feel like we’re failing at something, when in fact we are actually living real lives, where not everyone wants to or can eat the same things, where not everyone wants to or can be at the table, where not everything is happy and bright.

Groups like the Muses are havens from these expectations. As I write this, I realize that this is true of all of my work — the writing groups, the coaching, even working with folks on books. Having room to show up as we are, to write without worrying about being good, to say what’s really going on in our lives and hearts, to name what really happened in the past, all of this is how we get free to take up more space in the world and ultimately share more of ourselves.

More of ourselves, please. The world tells us a lot of things. The world tells us a lot of things about what being a writer is supposed to look like.

I got a(nother) rejection yesterday. It’s an essay I wrote a year ago and originally submitted to the New York Times Modern Love column with a wish and a prayer and not-so-secret high hopes that this would be the One.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. It was one of many. After the NYT rejected it, I kept sending it out. So far, not even a nibble. There’s a high probability I will choose to post it here and on my blog. That’s my way. That’s what I mean when I say “keep going.”

The end goal is not a perfect meal, a Rockwell painting, a slam dunk, a bullseye, or bragging rights. The end goal is to be here, to live fully, to take risks, to show up, to listen hard, to love well.

Last night, Pearl was awake with a tummy bug (he’s currently finally sleeping on the couch next to me). At one point, hoping he’d be able to rest, I told him to try counting his breaths, from one to ten. “If you lose count, go back to one,” I said.

I’m always going back to one. I had a zen teacher at one point who wrote about this, and it’s true. We’re always trying to get somewhere else.

So I’m letting the Muses group go as an “official” group. I’m making room, without having to rush in to fill it. I’m honoring the relationships I’ve come to cherish and know will endure, without clinging to the past.

Change happens. Stomach bugs happen. Rejection happens. Real life happens. And the writing? It happens, too, in the context of all of this. The minute we stop trying to get it right, the minute we start believing who and where we are is good enough, so much opens up. Room to breathe opens up. Trust might even make a guest appearance.

Back to one. Everybody now. And as for the Muses? You know who you are, and I love you all 4-ev-uh.

TRUTH: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

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The Back Story

I recently announced a new offering. It was going to be a year-long group based on a small but mighty book, “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words,” by the Scottish poet David Whyte. But I ran into an unexpected snafu: His publishing company contacted me, kindly telling me that my offering stood in violation of their “no commercial use” policy. I apologized and removed the web page.

(Cue agonizing over what to do.)

I didn’t want to just slap something together, but I was also reluctant to let it go. I slept on it, then slept on it some more, trying to strike the balance between playing with ideas while knowing you cannot just coax the muse on demand.

Then a coaching session with a client who had signed up for that original group brought some clarity. When Nukhet asked me if I had decided whether to offer an alternative. I told her I was wrestling with — and probably overthinking — it.

“Everyone’s lives are so full,” I said.

Her response was so perfect.

“I disagree. I think people’s lives are often so full… of stuff. But not necessarily fulfilling.”

And that’s when I told her the phrase that had come to me as I was drifting off to sleep last night: One True Thing.

But that is the name of an Anna Quindlen novel! And I didn’t want to run into anymore unexpected copyright issues, thank you very much.

Which is how I landed on this: Truth. Simple as that.

Because that is what we do in my groups: We show up and explore what’s true. We do not need the work of a brilliant poet and philosopher to guide this practice. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

And while I would have loved to use Consolations with its 52 everyday words as an anchor for this year-long group, what I realized this morning is that the essence of the group can remain: Exploring what’s true and meaningful, week after week, in our everyday lives. Exploring our values: What they are, what they’re not, and how they show up (or not).

This is work I’ve been doing with folks for 15 years. This is work I can claim as my own — and that I would love to share with you. In fact, I’ve considered offering a values-based group in the past, but never quite found the right structure.

One door closes, another opens.

What’s true for you may not be true for me. The beauty of this practice is that we can explore what’s true for us in any given moment, week after week, without self-judgment. The intention of the group will be one of witness, not debate, thus creating a truly spacious container for showing up and seeing what it’s like to be more fully awake to our true selves.

The true things in our days are often small, unremarkable. Not only that, but so often we say we want a regular writing practice, but then don’t follow through because it becomes yet another thing to keep up with.

What if it could be so simple?

What if once a week, for a year, you could notice when you were being really… yourself. Really… present. Really… true?

One word per week.

There are many splashy January offerings out there.

Instead of making resolutions and bending under the soul-killing pressure to strive harder, be better, do more, to grow, to change, join me for a slower, more spacious practice, of rooting more deeply into what’s already true.

HOW IT WILL WORK

A Weekly Invitation

For 52 weeks, we will explore what’s really true for us in our days, with each week centering on a particular “values” word.

  • Each Monday morning, you will receive an email from me with that week’s word, along with an image and gentle invitation to explore your relationship to it and one true way it shows up for you during the week. “Tell me the truth about…” is how we will begin each new week.
  • In addition, I will  post each week’s word in a secret Facebook group, sometimes along with a related poem or piece of writing.
  • The invitation will be to explore each week’s word in whatever way feels easy and right to you that week. You might choose to do a 10-minute timed, unedited freewrite, write a haiku each day, or make a collage inspired by what the word evokes. You might have a strong response to one week’s word while not feeling any particular connection to another’s. You might use the practice to really challenge your assumptions. You might write your own definition. You might tell a story, unearth a memory, or simply notice how and where that word shows up in your everyday interactions. The idea is to let the word be a guide inward, a gateway, to one true thing each week.
  • You may share your reflections, writings, photos, poems, and responses in any form throughout the week. Sharing in the group is entirely optional. It’s also fine to simply participate quietly; the choice is yours and may shift throughout the year.

A Year-Long Practice: January 1-December 31, 2019

  • Because we will be moving through 52 specific words together, participants are asked to commit to a year of participation.
  • A year sounds like a LONG TIME. In some ways, it is. Every single day is a life, after all. I am also intensely curious about what happens when we start something and stay with it, watching our own ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys — and each other’s — with more compassion and curiosity and less self-judgment, fear, and doubt.
  • Some weeks we will be all in, some weeks we will check out. What we will discover is community, connection, and more space to show up in the context of our real lives as conditions in and around us change and unfold.
  • Participation in the Facebook group is OPTIONAL.
  • There will be no attendance taking or critique, nor an expectation of reading and commenting on everyone’s posts. This practice is intended to be expansive and permission-giving. How you engage with it will likely evolve over the course of the year. The idea is to stay with something — especially ourselves — over time, and see what happens without attachment to outcome.

About the Words

Since 2003, when I hung my first coaching shingle and began working with private clients, I’ve been using the same list of “values” words as a starting point for our work. With some thoughtful tweaking, I’ve reshaped this list into one that will guide us through the year. From “accomplishment” to “trust,” these are all words that show up in all of our lives in some form or another. Each presents an opportunity to explore what’s true for us, how we have changed, and who we’re becoming. Each presents an opportunity to be more awake and alive.

Cost + Registration

Cost: $9/week

Think of it as us meeting for lattes each week to talk about words and life and everything from ambition to destiny to heartbreak to procrastination to self-knowledge.

Get Your Seat

To register: Pay in 12 monthly installments of $36.


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Be An Angel

We live in a culture where people who cannot afford to allocate $36 each month towards a creative practice such as “Truth” live in the margins and shadows. Since of my own core values is justice, it’s important to me not only to name this, but to create and offer concrete opportunities wherever and whenever possible to address and dismantle this disparity.

Those with higher degrees of economic security are much more likely to be able to participate in groups such as this one. If you are living check to check or working three jobs or single parenting or have medical bills or are helping to support other family members, this might be out of reach.

My Big Audacious Goal is to offer 50 scholarships for this group. If you have the financially ability to spare between $36 and $360/month for a year, please consider sponsoring between one and ten participants for this year-long exploration. One-hundred percent of your contribution will go to scholarships.

Community is where change happens. Thank you for being part of it.

Payment Options
Sponsor one spot : $36.00 USD – monthly
2 spots : $72.00 USD – monthly
3 spots : $108.00 USD – monthly
4 spots : $144.00 USD – monthly
5 spots : $180.00 USD – monthly
6 spots : $216.00 USD – monthly
7 spots : $252.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $288.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $324.00 USD – monthly
10 spots : $360.00 USD – monthly

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Special Add-On: Your Personal Values Inventory Session

An in-depth private session, where we discuss in detail your personal values, how you know when they’re being honored, and what changes you can and want to make in your everyday life to feel more like your true self in the world.

The session lasts 60-90 minutes and will leave you not only more connected to what’s most important to you, but with an actionable plan for putting that knowledge into motion.

The regular cost of this is $360, but members of this group pay just $200.

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Rejections, Insults, and Perspective


It’s 7:30 on Sunday morning. I did not sleep well — took a long time falling to sleep, then was up around 3:30, which is when I checked my phone and saw the rejection email from an editor I’d been really, really hoping would select the poem I’d submitted for a weekly series where poets respond to current news stories.

I must have gotten back to sleep — vivid dreams — and before I knew it, Chalupa started stirring sometime after 6:00am, and I woke up drenched in sweat. Night sweats have always been a thing for me but have gotten much more intense as I walk deeper into my 40s. So hi, I’m up. Up with coffee, of course. I took Chalupa downstairs to relieve herself after a bout of record-setting bulldog stubborness at the top of the stairs, then gave her breakfast, played with her mangled crocodile for a few minutes, and gave her a lovely shoulder massage until she was ready to calm down and sleep some more.

I’ve submitted more work in the last week than in a long time, and it’s such a funny cycle: I write, tinker a little, send with a kiss and a wish, wait, know that the odds are not in my favor, and then eventually get the email saying, “Thanks, but.” It doesn’t keep me from continuing (to write, tinker, send, etc.), but that’s not to say I don’t have a truncated trip through the stages of grief every time. This one hit a little harder, which tells me the poem itself is more personal. I will probably share it here soon.

Something Mani shared with me yesterday — she was reading a mental health-related piece about why words matter, especially the words practitioners of all kinds use — really struck me: One negative statement or insult has the same impact as 100 positive statements of compliments. Said another way, it takes 100 positive things to cancel the impact on a person of a single negative one. My mind went in so many directions at once upon hearing this. I thought of children, all children really but particularly those at higher risk to be bullied, teased, ostracized, and underestimated based solely on factors like race, gender expression, or a disability.

I also thought of creativity — from writing to art-making — and the lasting damage of that one teacher who told you you should quit, or you’d never be that good, or you didn’t have what it takes. I thought about the folks who write with me, and why my groups aren’t focused on being better writers per se. When you were diminished as a child, it can take a lot of practice and time and affirmation to slowly begin to believe, “I can.”

The latest rejection stings. It pisses me off for a minute. But it’s not an insult. It’s just a person with his own subjectivity, his own sense of what the readers of his magazine prefer, and surely his own unconscious filters and biases, too, making choices about what to publish. It doesn’t hurt me, and it won’t scar me unless I let it. But if I never shared my work anywhere where it was met with appreciation, recognition in the form of resonance and human connection, and kindness, I think it would be a hell of a lot harder to keep going.

Yesterday, a participant in my most recent 2-week writing group shared this:

Writing with you these past two weeks did get me unstuck. It was hard and didn’t always feel comfortable with what my words revealed, but now I can make words with my voice and camera again. Much self-knowledge gained. Thank you.

This woman is a phenomenally talented photographer and a deeply beautiful writer. But she had been stuck. Her word, along with so much emotion, had gotten lodged inside of her body. And the writing, the prompts, the safe space for sharing where she knew she wouldn’t be insulted or rejected be it for the quality or the content of her words, all allowed her to begin to feel herself again.

This to me is of far greater importance than getting published in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and so on. Don’t get me wrong — reaching more people with my words has always been and remains an ever-growing dream of mine. It’s that this dream doesn’t overpower the other one, which is to encourage people to trust themselves through practice, to make room for being imperfect, and to do this right alongside every person I’m lucky enough to write with.

I suppose it’s called perspective.

I woke up after that less-than-stellar night’s sleep feeling some urgency. Urgency to write, perhaps to assemble my next collection of poems, which I might even submit to a literary contest if I can pull it together in time, and well. We’ll see. For now, I come here. Because here is a place to land, a way to connect, and 20 minutes I’ll never regret.

Now I’m going to pour a second cup. If you want homework: Think of one negative statement or insult you’ve carried. Write it down on a piece of paper. Then get a second piece of paper, and write 100 positive statements or compliments. If you can’t think of that many, it’s fine. Just start.

Goethe’s oft-quoted words seem like a fitting way to end: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”