Category Archives: Living

Reflection on maintaining a writing life post-MFA, written in second person for no particularly good reason, just to see what emerges

When you published your first book, an allegory on dot matrix pages filled with colored pencil illustrations, held together with yarn and glue, you were told by the big sister-like teacher with the cinnamon hair in the Young Writer’s Workshop that you were a writer. You liked the sound of that. It was the thing you had been waiting to hear, the explanation for your impulse to observe, mute, a soothing from the shame of “stare hard, retard”.

Because you were young enough to believe just about anything, for a while you needed nothing more than the go-ahead of the teacher with the cinnamon hair. You wrote stories, all illustrated. You and a friend made up your own comic.

Your body too was changing when you stopped believing, no longer content with what you had been writing, afraid to write the things that sat like a heavy meal in your gut. Terrified you weren’t a writer after all, afraid to have nothing to show, you took the poem about a flamingo offered by your generous, concerned friend and put your name on it so that you would have something to show.

You started to journal and your aunts, who must have sensed your need for guidance or perhaps were once there themselves, bought you books that called you writer, offered you exercises to build-a-better-body, a body that could endure the strain of story-making.

You began to write the things that mattered, though your stories then, like the teen who wrote them, mostly only pointed and balked. You wanted to keep writing then more than anything though. In fact, those stories were the only thing you trusted and you were sure without them you were nothing.

You believed this less when you became a mother,then a teacher, and it was hard to write in those years and you were so aware of that hollow, just as you were the beating of your own heart that first year of teaching. You wrote in fits, though you often felt guilty and were sure that your family must be lost without you. Selfish of you to have this page, this pen, this separate pleasure! You sometimes snuck in writing time.

It wasn’t just that you loosed your grasp on what you never could control, though that helped. You persisted, sometimes you really just limped along and lied. Now you’ve got your MFA and you know without a doubt, like you did when you published your first book, an allegory on dot matrix pages held together with yarn and glue, that this is the thing you must do and that you must in some way do it every day. When you doubt that, you will remember the rush of relief, love, and joy you felt the first time your fifteen-year-old son spent the bulk of one day struggling to master a song on his electric blue Fender guitar.

 

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Teacher/Writer: Struggling to Find A Writing Schedule

Summer time is prime writing time for me. My best teacher friend (who also happens to be a fiction writer) and I devise an escape plan at the end of every school year to immerse ourselves in a writing life. We do this to avoid the inevitable. School ends and the routine that we have spent all year perfecting and shaping drops away, leaving us not free and inspired, but lost and looking for our keys. This year (because of a late release date) we didn’t do this. Until now. Here we are in Packwood, WA where I have no cell service and I have to sit on the roof to steal Internet from the neighbors who own the pug named Gary (who stops by every once in a while to make sure we are all settled in).
The first day here I was like a kid with ADD during a history lecture. Read for a while. Pace the floor. Write a letter. Walk down to the river, throw myself down on the sand and pray to the River Gods for aid. At least three times, I was ready to pack it up and go home, ready to say, you know what, I finished my one book, that’s all I’ve got.
Finally, I was able to sift through some short stories and decide which ones were worth the hard work of revision and set aside three that are the seeds of future novels. At that point, I couldn’t delude myself. I had a complete draft of a novel I’ve needed to write since 2005, three future novel seeds, five stories that even the thought of revising gives me a mild endorphin rush. I will write. I have to.
This whole situation is really a false dilemma that I have been handed the solution to countless times. Build a habit. Keep a schedule. Set attainable goals.
So, what’s the problem?…
I am accustomed to my teacher schedule, wherein every year the schedule begins anew and every summer, the comfort of that routine drops away. So, here’s what I decided while I was walking around the neighborhood here in Packwood trying to get even one bar on my cell phone so I could send that one last text message. It’s high time I separated my teaching life and my writing life and came up with a writing schedule that will work for me year round. If I am able to write more in the summer (because I have more time), well nothing keeps me from writing above and beyond the schedule, right? I need to create a summer schedule that will also work during the school year and hold myself accountable to that schedule.

My schedule: Thursday through Sunday
Goal: @ least 1000 words or 6-10 pages of revision
What’s your schedule?
See my success rate here.

 

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Writing practice

Working on a short story and researching markets. Read an article with my breakfast (coffee, grapefruit, brie and crackers) about yoga and activism that nailed how I feel about writing practice, yoga practice, running, and just trying to be a better human being: “…sometimes what feels like a setback is really preparation for a big leap forward…progress isn’t a neat linear path.” That’s pretty much what my novel is about. 🙂

 

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running woman

Revelations About Writing While Running the Capital City Half Marathon

This morning I ran the Capital City Half Marathon for the third time. I’ve run several half marathons in the past seven years, and as for overall good feeling before and after the race, this race was my best yet. Around mile 5 or 6 of the run, I put into words what it was that was making this race so good for me, so that I could stay feeling good for the rest of the run, and I kept repeating three phrases over and over to myself: stick your neck out; listen to your body; come to your own edge. It was around mile 7 that I began to see how these mantras applied to my writing life too.

Stick your neck out

This mantra has a simple, practical application to running and has to do with physical alignment. I have experienced shoulder and neck tension with frequency during runs. I’ve tried various tricks to keep my shoulders relaxed, but today something clicked for me. “Stick your neck out” reminded me to keep a long neck and to extend through the top of my head. For the first time ever, I had absolutely no tension in my neck and shoulders during the run.

I was basking in this freedom of movement and turning the corner of mile 7 or so, when I thought about how “stick your neck out” also applied to my writing life now. I just finished my first novel, have written a query and synopsis, and am attempting to find an agent. After twenty years of writing, I am finally willing to stick my neck out and try to sell my work. In the past so many things have prevented me risking rejection. I felt overwhelmed by the publishing process. I felt less-than other writers. I did not trust my own instincts. Mostly, I just didn’t believe I could do it and so I didn’t stick my neck out. I have sent out 20 queries to agents in the past two weeks and already received five rejections, and despite those rejections, I feel a freedom of movement much like I felt during the run this morning. In a different way, I am sticking my neck out.

Listen to your body

At mile 4 I was running hot and though the rain was coming down and people around me were still wearing their long sleeves, I peeled off my long-sleeve layer. I ran the rest of the run in a tank top. The relief I experienced when I peeled off that layer was ecstatic and came as a result of listening to my body. I listened to my breath. I felt the cool raindrops on my skin. I slowed and quickened my pace entirely based on my own body’s signals (breath, temperature, body sensations). I tuned out what other runner’s around me were doing with their bodies just like I would in a yoga class, a place where listening to my own body and not looking around are givens. Today I found that I could do the same in running more than I ever had before. The resulting feeling of freedom filled my heart with love. I made it a goal to say thank you to the volunteers I passed along the rest of the route and I did.

Listening to my body in my writing life has to do with accepting the natural ebb and flow of my creative energy and not judging my own writing practice by what I did the day before, what another writer does, or what I think I should do. As I mentioned, I just finished my first novel. I am eager to get back to the page. I even know what my next project is going to be. I have a roll of butcher paper that has been sitting in the corner of my bedroom for a week now in anticipation of mapping out the plot of my next project. I also have some short stories I am working on. Should I start mapping that plot while I am also researching agents and sending out queries? Should I split my daily writing time between queries and writing time? These are questions I have been struggling with. This morning, on the run, I discovered my answer. No. I will write when I am ready and when I am done sending out queries. I may take some notes here and there, but when I listen to my body and I think of having my head in a writing project and trying to sell my book, I feel my breathe catch and my muscles tense and I realize that I need to slow down my pace and do what feels right, not what I think I should do.

Come To Your Own Edge

Come to your own edge was the mantra today that reminded me to push myself the whole way. I have a tendency to be a bit easy on myself when I run and this phrase reminded me to stay in the moment and push to the best of my ability.

In my writing, coming to my own edge means to find time to write every day and to value that writing time by staying focused in the moment, setting goals and working toward them. It means being a good self-editor by being willing to delete, revise, or set aside work that isn’t my best. Coming to my own edge means that when I’m writing, I am just writing (not multitasking) and I am doing the best writing I am capable of in that moment.

Somewhere between mile 5 or 6, I had come up with the language for how I wanted this run to go: stick your neck out; listen to your body; come to your own edge. I was saying those three phrases over and over to myself and it was at about mile 7 that I began to see how each of those phrases related to my writing practice as I want it to be. I thought to myself, “The first thing I’m going to do when I finish this race is find someone with a pen I can borrow.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. My pals at Guerrilla Running were the first booth I came to. As I write this, I am reading the notes I made on the back of one of their flyers.

 

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Yoga and Writing: Another Perfect Pair

An article about yoga and its benefits for writers and also about the importance of solitude and stillness (which yoga provides). Included in the article is a quote from Writing Down the Bones, a book that influenced me as a very young writer and that I love and a link to a site with poses and prompts for you to try.

My personal yoga practice of more than twenty years is a part of a whole creative practice, the product of which is writing. I generate and work through ideas while I run or walk. I prepare my body and mind for the stillness and focus that writing requires through yoga. Both running and yoga have made me a better writer.

 

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Running and Writing: Perfect Pair

Love this article on the connection between running and writing. It spoke to my own feelings about the relationship between these two practices for me. Also, here is another push for me to read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

 

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A New Year, 2011… :)

This musing goes out to Chris, because more than anything I want to spend this coming year achieving goals and enjoying life with him. So, baby, here is to a rare love, a new year. *mwah*

Books I Read in 2010:
Various essays and poems from collections pulled off the shelf such as Naked Poetry, Dancing With Joy, and Risking Everything…
To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
Man Walks Into A Room Nicole Krauss
The Book of Other People Zadie Smith
Ron Carlson Writes A Story Ron Carlson
Five Skies Ron Carlson
A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf
Reading Like A Writer Francine Prose
Marya Joyce Carol Oates
How To Be Good Nick Hornby
Eva Trout Elizabeth Bowen
The Death of the Heart Elizabeth Bowen
Because It Is Bitter And Because It Is My Heart Joyce Carol Oates
Tinkers Paul Harding
I started Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon) and want to finish it in 2011
Generosity Richard Powers
March Geraldine Brooks
On the Road Jack Kerouac
Interpreter of Maladies Jumpha Lahiri

Books I Want to Read in 2011:
–At least 3 yoga books
–Several books purchased, check out from library, or pulled off my shelf on a whim
–At least 4 books all in one sitting
–Books given to me by people I love: World War Z; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; A Gate At The Stairs; The Map of Love
–Several books of poetry
–Finish Ulysses on schedule
–Kavalier and Clay (Chabon)
–Mrs. Dalloway
–Mansfield stories
–Poe stories
–Lolita (Nabokov)
–Catch-22 (Heller)
–Stranger In A Strange Land (Heinlein)
–Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut)
–Gravity’s Rainbow (Pynchon)
–Under the Net (Murdoch)
At Least two of the books recommended by my Facebook friends: The Beauty Series, The Imperfectionists, The Lost Diary of Don Juan, Hunger Games, Harbor, The Help, Of Human Bondage, The Eden Express, World War Z, The Book of the New Sun, The Mulching of America, Shadow Tag, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing

I also want to read more literary journals and at least one regularly (perhaps the one I already subscribe to–that would make sense).

As far as goals or resolutions for the year, I want to keep running, writing, and taking time for love. I want to write more letters. I want to spend 10 minutes every morning in silent meditation and keep a journal of brief written recordings of those sessions. I want to live with intention, love without fear, and be the best person I can be.

 

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What Shine Read: 2009

I borrowed the idea of publishing this list from a friend who shared her list with me. I hope that others will do the same and we’ll all have lots of inspiration for what to read in 2010. Following is a list of books I read in 2009, some with comments, some not. Wishing you all a fabulous New Year! Now, what do I want to read next….hmmmmm….Any suggestions?

What I Read:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (LOVED it! Couldn’t put it down. Left me in a language-story induced daze)
Shortcuts by Raymond Carver (Writers Book Group Choice)
Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
…some short stories by Thom Jones (Writers Book Group Choice)
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
The River Why by David James Duncan (Thanks to Chris Human for the suggestion!)
Last Night At The Lobster by Stewart O’Nan (Writers Book Group Choice)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (Unbelievable!)(Writers Book Group Choice)
Journey of the Heart by John Wellwood (Thanks for the suggestion Lee Brooks!)
Postmodern American Fiction
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Loved it! Passed it on to Erin McAdams, who also read it and loved it!)
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer (Writers Book Group Choice)
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Blue Ridge by T.R. Pearson (Writers Book Group Choice)
Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
A Writer’s Guide to San Francisco (Read to prepare for a spring break trip to the city!)
Runaway by Alice Munro
The Stories of John Cheever
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins (A re-read of an old fav!)
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (Writers Book Group Choice)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Writers Book Group Choice)
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (Writers Book Group Choice)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
Dear Ghosts by Tess Gallagher
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Read to me by Winston while waiting for the movie to start)
The Summer Before The Dark by Doris Lessing
Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose (Writers Book Group Choice)
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Writers Book Group Choice)
The Body Artist by Don Delillo (Thanks to Nate and Christina Hile for the suggestion!)
Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger (finished yesterday, also a re-read) (Writers Book Group Choice)

 

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Everything to gain

Slept in til 6! The sun was persistent coming through the window, lighting on where I was sleeping on the couch. Ajax whined while I downed a cup of coffee, scratching at the door, gazing at me with his begging eyes.
We ran down to the water’s edge. The tide was way out. I collected three intact sand dollars, a sturdy, smooth black rock and half a large clam shell along the way. Ajax chased the birds and bathed in the water and I felt the gift of the moment. To be running along the ocean, the day mine to create.
I got little writing done hooked into the wireless at Cafe Amici, gave in to the distractions of email and Facebook, then strolled back to her our “home”.
I’ve been writing now for a couple of hours, have rewritten everything I lost due to a technology glitch yesterday, and am now moving forward again in this story. I’m cognizant today of how difficult it is sometimes to beat back the voices that keep us from believing in our stories and feeling I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Happy summer y’all!
Back to the writing…

 

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Daydreaming of summer–need input!

The things we don’t get credit for, can’t measure or plan, the things that bubble up from our own heart’s desire, our own gratitude, our presence in the moment. Herein we find richness! Opulent. Affluent. Content. It’s not my habit to put these things off to a more convenient or less busy time, and what this means is that sometimes I get very little sleep.
And this year! Finally divorced. The only involved parent to a thirteen-year-old boy. Teaching yoga and high school. Reading and writing every day since September for the work I am doing to earn my MFA in fiction writing. Amazing! Exhausting! I’ve learned so much. More than I realize, I’m sure.
And now…summer! I can count the school days…there are 31. I look forward to sleeping in, to day-tripping, to reading whatever I want for whatever reason, for a pause to celebrate the steps I’ve taken this year toward honesty and intention. So, I’m sharing two unfinished lists here and I’d like to hear what you would put on your list, so that I might be inspired by your summer daydreams. I’ll do some of this and read some of this, but I will also stay open to suggestion, to change, to the unexpected.

Summer Dos:

-eat black licorice ice cream
-have picnics
-play kick-the-can
-day hikes!
-take Winston to see three movies in a row at the theater
-bike rides
-watch some movies that have been recommended to me lately
-barbecue corn and tofu steaks
-get Carrie drunk in New Mexico
-learn that flow sequence!
-see live music
-beach days
-river adventures
-camping
-Savasanah

Summer Reads:

-Lamb / Christopher Moore
-The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cover / Christopher Moore
-Fool / Christopher Moore

Recommended Books (I want to read mostly recommended books!):

-Are You There Vodka? It’s me Chelsea./ Chelsea Handler
-The River Why / David James Duncan
-The Glass Castle / Jeanette Walls
-American Home Life / David Barringer
-Twisted Fun /David Barringer

 

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