Monday, June 03, 2013
"There are no standards and no possible victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run. You are not running for some future reward - the real reward is now!" - Fred Rohe, The Zen of Running
When I run, and especially when I race, I'm able to stay in the moment. I just finished the San Diego Rock n' Roll Half Marathon. A line of women all dressed like Marilyn Monroe left me laughing for a good mile. The funky houses and friendly neighbors in University Heights kept me alert and awake for several more miles. The sight of runners dressed like Elvis, wearing tutus, or dolled up in other costumes helped me keep my head right where my feet were for more miles after that.
When there were no interesting distractions, I made the physical sensation of running my companion. I observed the rhythmic movement of arms and legs. I felt my heart beating. I focused on my breath as it flowed in and out. All of these things kept me rapt for 13.1 miles over several hours. There was no future and no past. There was only now.
I know that there are standards and victories in writing, but still I wish I could adopt the attitude of having no future reward every time I face the page. So often my mind turns to the future. I wonder if what I'm writing will interest anyone else or if I'm simply writing for my own purposes. I wonder if it's marketable. I wonder if it's boring. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder.
All this wondering is simply my inner critic taking me for a ride. It is not helpful to me or the writing and it is not kind. Rather, it is painful. The inner critic thinks it is being helpful by preventing me from making mistakes. The problem is, when the critic is so strong, merely facing the page becomes a huge challenge. Finishing anything turns into a monumental task.
The key, I believe, is to be fully present to the writing as I'm doing it. Not only do I lose myself in the work, but I take pleasure in the physical sensations whether it is my fingers on a pen or on a keyboard. I alternate between a sitting desk and one for standing which helps keep me alert and reduces pain. And when the words take over, I lose myself for long periods of time in the consciousness of the page.
In my experience, publication alone doesn't bring the huge rewards one might think. The huge rush of seeing my first magazine article on the cover of Dog World Magazine lasted only a few days. It was a momentary high I'm glad I experienced, but neither it nor my other publication credits could carry me for the long run.
Rather, the writing itself delivers the pleasure. If not, I wouldn't write at all. And this brings me back to the moment. I must continue to find ways to enjoy writing in the moment. Even a bad day writing, a day when I put in the proverbial comma in the morning only to take it out in the afternoon, is better than a day not writing at all.
Friday, May 03, 2013
"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world." - John Keating (actor Robin Williams) in the movie THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY
On Thursday, April 11, 2013, I thought Ed was dead. That's exactly what I screamed as I ran out our front door to my neighbor's. "He's dead! My husband is dead!" I was trying to dial 911, but couldn't find the dial pad on my "smart" phone. I could pull up Facebook, Twitter, and the recently dialed numbers, but not the squad.
As I scrambled to the house next door, Ed sat in our bathroom unconscious. He'd become severely dehydrated from either food poisoning or the norovirus. He had fainted in my arms, fallen, hit his head hard enough to dent the bathroom door, and remained unconscious for the excruciating minutes it took me to get help to work my phone. He regained consciousness as the EMTs pulled into our drive. They wheeled him off to The Ohio State University emergency room for intravenous fluids and Zofran, the magic anti-nausea drug. He recovered fabulously just in time to take care of me when I fell ill the next day. Thanks to more anti-nausea drugs and his tender loving care, I recovered over the weekend without incident.
The following Monday, April 15, 2013, Hubby and I had watched a live feed of the elite runners finish the Boston Marathon from our respective computers in our central Ohio home. When the live streaming ended, we packed our car for an overnight to Athens, eighty miles south. An hour after we left, as Ed and I blithely drove along somewhere between Logan and Nelsonville, the two bombs were detonated killing three people and injuring at least 260.
We heard the tragic news when we reached our hotel and immediately turned on the television. We could only tolerate watching for a while. The images and commentary overwhelmed us. Once we realized the newscasters on all channels were recirculating the images and information and that nothing new was being revealed, we headed for dinner with little of our only recently-regained appetites.
I spent several days after these events following Ed around. I took his temperature and his blood pressure and asked if he was feeling alright. He was patient, but eventually he asked me if I didn't have something better to do!
I'm in several running groups. One is a primarily on-line group named The Dead Runners Society after the 1989 movie The Dead Poets Society. In the movie, The Dead Poets Society adopts as its motto the aphorism, Carpe Diem which can be loosely translated as, "Seize the day!" To suit their purpose, the Dead Runners Society amended this to "Carpe Viam!" which (also loosely translated) stands for "Seize the Way (or Seize the Roadway)."
Recent events made seizing things seem like a great idea. Carpe Diem! Carpe Viam! Why not Carpe Scribendi? That was it! I'd seize the pen!
So those are my mottos and that's what I've done in the days since. Each day I wake and feel grateful for another 24-hours with Ed. Carpe Diem! Another of my running groups held a fun run fundraiser for the bombing victims. I participated in that. Carpe Viam! And I continue to work on the book about running. I'm nearly done with a first draft. Carpe Scribendi!
What about you? What's going on with your writing? What will it take for you to Carpe Scribendi? I'd love to hear about it.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
"I beg to urge you everyone:
Life and Death are a Great Matter
Awaken, awaken, awaken
Time passes quickly
Do not waste this precious life."
- Zen Evening Chant
Best-selling author Natalie Goldberg, in her recent book, THE TRUE SECRET OF WRITING, released March 19, 2013, provides a glimpse of the writing and meditation workshops she has conducted since the early 2000s. I have attended or assisted Nat at many of these and can attest to their effectiveness at bringing the mind to a stillness I have found nowhere else except in running.
In an interview with Melissa Studdard and in the forward to the new book, Nat explains the tongue-in-cheek title. Nat's workshops often ended at noon on Friday. It is a three-hour drive from Taos to the nearest major airport. Invariably, in the final days of the workshop, a student would approach Nat to explain that she had booked a flight Friday afternoon and so would have to miss the Friday morning class. Nat would smile and say, in all seriousness, "I'm so sorry. That is when I am going to tell the true secret of writing. I guess you'll miss it."
In the book, as in her conversation with this student, she makes an important point. Show up! If you want to run, show up for the workout. If you want to write, show up to the page. If you want to learn, show up to the class. Especially in writing, there are no shortcuts. There are skills to be learned, hours to be spent in practice, and mistakes to be made. There is no easier, softer way.
It's been a pleasure to get these new reminders. I've studied with many others and have learned from all of them. Still, the lessons from Natalie through the years have kept me going when I've forgotten all the rest.
For information about Nat's workshops, visit her website. Her workshop schedule is limited in 2013 due to her book tour.
Natalie admits there is actually no "true secret of writing." But if you could say there was one, what would it be?
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Sunday, March 03, 2013
“You can fix anything but a blank page.” - Nora Roberts
Each month I receive questions. Below is a summary of frequently asked questions and where to find the answers.
The most frequent question I get is whether I will read manuscripts. I have done this in the past, but currently am focusing on my own writing and not taking individual clients. However, other people are. If you click the "Newsletter" tab on my website then the link on the right-hand side of the page you'll find "Individual Assistance." This page lists editors, coaches, writers, teachers and other people who are in the business of helping writers get the job done. It is not a complete list. I do not necessarily endorse these people or know how well they work. I only know that they have contacted me and they are available.
The second most frequent question I get is whether I know of any writing groups. As a matter of fact, I do. If you're looking for a group, surf over to the Ongoing Writing Groups page. Some writing groups focus on a particular genre. Others are open to anything. Perhaps you'll find one that suits your needs. If you're already in a writing group that is open to new members and you don't see it listed on my website, please let me know and I'll include it. Similarly, if you start a group and you'd like to attract members, I'll be glad to post that as well. You'll find this list of groups under the Newsletter tab and then by clicking the link on the right.
Also under the Newsletter tab you'll find the current essay, the current list of writing events, a list of promotions for individuals and organizations with which I am familiar (these are endorsements, not advertisements), a page of "fine print" which lists specifics about the newsletter such as deadlines and subscription information, a link for signing up for the newsletter, and submission information. There is also a link to an archive of past newsletter articles.
In the shameless self-promotion category (in separate tabs along the top) you'll find a list of my classes, quotes from people who recommend me (aka kudos), and my biography.
Under the tab "Websites," I've listed many different links to my favorite stuff including writing courses, meditation, coffeehouses, and other things I just want you to know.
Finally, yes, Write Now Newsletter and Bum Glue do accept donations. If you find either the newsletter or blog helpful, this is a great way to show it. In addition to our time, we have internet, web design, and mass email fees every month. Under the Newsletter tab, at the bottom of each page, is a link which allows people to donate.
Is there something else you would like to see on my website? I'd love to hear your suggestions.
Monday, February 25, 2013
"Just exactly what is a wolf doing in my parlor?" Science journalist Jon Franklin spends nine interesting CDs (I listened to the audiobook) answering this question in the frame of evolution.
I would have given The Wolf in the Parlor five stars on goodreads.com (I gave it 4), but IMHO, the book didn't get personal soon enough. Instead of chronicling the history of his employment and laying out his credentials as a science journalist, he would have captivated the reader and hooked us for the ride much earlier if he had begun the story with the scene in which he proposed to his girlfriend and she responded, "Does this mean we can get a puppy?" As the book stands, I listened to an entire CD asking all the while, "What does this have to do with dogs?" and "Where are the dogs?" The photo of the old man and the puppy, a snapshot of an archeological dig, is an interesting hook, but I wanted something more personal.
I'm glad I stuck it out. The book delivers both scientific information and memoir in a sweet balance. For the the evolutionarily-minded dog-lover, it's a good story. [Note: The subtitle of the most recent edition of this book has been changed. The book I listened to was subtitled, "The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs." The newer subtitle is, "How the Dog Came to Share Your Brain."]
Monday, February 11, 2013
Sunday, February 03, 2013
“Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day. The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.” - Dr. James Levine, Mayo Clinic
Writing is killing us. Well, writing itself isn't killing us, but sitting at our desks all day hunched in front of our computers moving nothing but our fingers might be. According to one New York Times article, "Excessive sitting . . . is a lethal activity." USA Today reported, ". . . people in sedentary occupations are at the highest risk of early death." And How-To Geek put together a scary, statistic-filled infographic on the risks of so much sitting.
What's a writer to do? Most of you have read (especially if you scroll to the bottom of my monthly newsletter and scan the "Paranoid Ex-Lawyer's Release") about my somewhat successful attempt to turn from couch potato into athlete. Unfortunately, the New York Times article cited above explains, "Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting." The article continues, "Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin." Sigh. And here I thought running a marathon was the answer.
The New York Times article suggests the treadmill desk . To use this device, a worker walks very slowly on a low-noise treadmill while working at the desk specially designed to fit on the machine. I don't have one, yet, but it's on my wish list. There's also the standing desk which has been used by the likes of Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Dickens. Everything old is new again! Given the space requirements and the price, I'm more likely to purchase a standing desk.
For now, though, I've simply instituted the "posture reset" policy. Every half hour, I get up, circle my arms over my head, touch my toes, and walk a big circle through the house or coffeeshop. I set the timer on my phone to beep (or vibrate if I'm in a public place) every 30 minutes alerting me it's time to move. Will this ensure longevity? I don't know, but it's got to be better than sitting completely still for long periods.
How do you minimize the amount you sit? I'd love to hear your experiences.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Between Panic and Desire, Dinty W. (an initial he explains in this book) Moore's cultural memoir of linked essays in experimental form complete with quizzes and his own autopsy report demanded that I read it in one sitting. The book weaves John F. Kennedy, Nixon, the cold war,the Cuban missile crisis, 9/11, both Bush presidents, the Beatles, Charles Manson, Squeaky Fromme, missing fathers, father figures, drug addiction, Irish heritage, automobiles, and Leonard Cohen into a witty and inventive narrative about life in the television-watching U.S.A. of the 1960s and the journey of a young man wandering through it. I really enjoyed the ride.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Released 50 years early in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Presidency on permission of daughter Caroline, Conversations on Life With John F. Kenney interviews by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. provide only a bit of insight into the life of Jacqueline and J.F.K. I listened on CD and, aside from the New England accent, Jacqueline Kennedy could have been Marilyn Monroe with her breathy voice and her adoration of J.F.K. I wish I knew my history better, but I couldn't place most of the people that were asked about and who she discussed and so the subtleties were lost on me. I did, however, take note of the fact that, as Caroline mentioned in the introduction, Jacqueline felt her job was to make her husband happy, to bear and raise his children, and to stay out of politics. She would later change these views and embrace feminism whole-heartedly, but this was 1963 and she was a young woman still so fresh in the shadow of losing the man she loved.
For the conspiracy theorists, there was no mention of Lyndon Johnson master-minding the assassination although it was clear that they did not care for him. In fact, Jacqueline stated quite clearly that Johnson was not selected as V.P. candidate to enhance the ticket, but rather because J.F.K. thought he would be much less dangerous there than as Senate Majority Leader, the position he held prior to the campaign.
For the gossip columnists, there was no mention of Marilyn or any of J.F.K.'s other alleged lovers and also no mention of Jacqueline's supposed retaliatory affair with William Holden.
Overall Jackie was elegant if sometimes snobbish, and very convinced in her judgments of people and of the positions she stated that J.F.K. held. There were several brief appearances by John, Jr. and Caroline, but as always, they were protected.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
"Many years ago I resolved never to bother with New Year's resolutions, and I've stuck with it ever since." ~Dave Beard
Last January, departing from my usual custom to not make New Year's resolutions, I resolved to read 50 books and watch 50 movies in 2012 as part of the fiftyfifty.me challenge. I also promised to wear earrings every day. I missed all of those goals. Instead, I ran a marathon, revised more than half of the memoir about my last year with my father, and started writing a book about running. Setting goals isn't a bad thing, just sometimes we wind up achieving different goals from the ones we set. At least that's how it worked for me.
Although I didn't achieve my publicly stated goals, I'm still pleased with my progress. I watched 41 movies including many titles I wouldn't have watched if I hadn't taken the challenge. I watched thrillers and documentaries, romances and comedies, and a few sad movies which made me cry. I kept track of the movies on Pinterest by posting an image and writing a one or two sentence comment about each. You can see them here.
As for the books, I finished 25. I read several memoirs, a few books about dogs, several running books, and four novels. I started many how-to books about running and didn't finish them out of sheer boredom. Again, I'm pleased with the result. Twenty-five is nearly a book every two weeks which is still more than the 17 books the average person reads in a year.
The truth is that I couldn't make myself begin many books because I was afraid. Ever since my last major depressive episode (the politically correct term for a nervous breakdown) which began after my niece died in February 2007, I have been self-preservationally selective about reading. I hate to say I'm sensitive, but it appears to be true. I fear reading anything too sad, too violent or too dark. I go to those emotional places so easily without the aid of art that I am loathe to read, see, hear, or visit any book, show, lecture, or exhibit that might send me tunneling into the depths. Although I am much more resilient now, I'm still afraid. And that fear kept me from reading more in 2012.
I picked up Marley and Me and although I have heard it is good, I'd also heard how it ends and couldn't bring myself to read it. The same is true of The Reader which Ed adored and which has gotten high marks, but I couldn't put myself through it. I thought about reading nothing but romance novels, but I couldn't bear that either. While some romance novels are well-written, a little bit of that goes a long way with me. And so, twenty-five is my total. I tracked my progress on GoodReads if you care to look it up.
As for the earrings, it was lofty to think that I was going to dress up enough or even remember to wear earrings every day. It got old really quickly. I don't think I made it through April. I'm not sure.
I thought about tackling the 50 book goal again in 2013, but decided against it. Rather, I will just read as many books as I can. I would love to hear suggestions of books with happy endings that are well written. Let me know what you adore. I will also watch as many movies as I can and will wear earrings when the spirit moves me! That is much more my style.
Did you make New Year's Resolutions in 2012? If not, why not? If so, how did that work out for you? I'd love to hear your experiences.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Have you gizoogled yourself yet? It looks like google, but it's definitely not. It's kind of like google translate, but instead of turning your prose from English into Spanish, it turns the places you appear on the web from regular boring old people speak into gansta rap.
Surf to Gizoogle and type your name in the box. Then be sure to click the tab on the left, "Gizoogle Dis Shiznit" to get the full effect.
The Gizoogle.net version of my website says:
"Nita writes n' teaches rockin tha writin practice steez of best-pimpin lyricist Nate Dogg Goldberg wit whom her ass has studied since 1996."
And that's "Ahiya" to you, homeboys!
Monday, December 03, 2012
On December 16th, when I toe the line with a few thousand other folks in Indianapolis for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon, I probably won't know any of the other runners. And it won't matter. I’ll stand out in the cold with like-minded people and be happy. When the starting horn sounds I'll run as hard and fast as I can, but that won't be my primary goal. That race is just an excuse to hang out with a bunch of other crazy runners dressed like Santa. We just want to be together.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
If you know a runner, go hug them today. And if you know a writer, hug them today too!
Friday, November 02, 2012
It's day two of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and I'm 1,704 words into the requisite 50,000 required during the thirty days of November. That number of words puts me a little behind, but the day's not over and several write-ins are scheduled in the upcoming days which are guaranteed to boost my word count.
During NaNoWriMo, fellow wrimos (that's what people who attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge call themselves) gather in a predetermined location to work seperately on their projects all at the same time. Tommorrow's write-in will be held in a conference room in an office building. Sunday's write-in is at a Panera restaurant community room. On Monday I'll host a write-in at Colin's, a locally-owned coffeeshop near my house. Other write-ins are scheduled throughout the month. If you live in central Ohio and are participating in NaNoWriMo, you can find the calendar here.
During five prior Novembers, I have written two memoirs and two novels (I wrote one of these novels twice) with the help of NaNoWriMo. I have not yet published any of these projects. They are in varying stages of doneness. My first NaNo project, the memoir about my father and I playing golf the last summer of his life, is the oldest and most complete book. Another author might have finished it years ago, but I am slow and perfectionistic. That's part of why I adore NaNoWriMo. There is no time during November for the inner critic to take hold - at least, not if you want to win.
I am encouraged by visiting the Published NaNoWriMo Novels page. Scrolling the list, I see one hundred eighteen books created during NaNoWriMo that went on to be published, many by well-known publishing companies. I recognize several titles including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. NaNoWriMo is a welcome, supportive structure in which to write. For me, it's also a great adventure and a chance to reunite with friends I only see once a year. As a bonus, I get some work done!
How do you plan to get your writing work done this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
When I woke today, that nasty little voice told me I couldn't run. I hadn't run in three days. Two of those days were required rest after a 22-mile run on Saturday. The third was an additional rest day because I had a very minor medical procedure. The voice pressed the issue, but I knew what to do. I thanked it for the information, pulled on running clothes, leashed the dog, and headed out the door.
Next month is National Novel Writing Month, that time when hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world join in a common goal: to write 50,000 words (primarily of fiction) in thirty days. Most of me is excited. I can't wait to hang out in coffeehouses hammering out words side-by-side with other writers. I also love compulsively updating my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo website. And who doesn't adore telling their friends about the latest insane plot twist the mind conjured in the writing process.
But as the calendar turned to October and the trees began to show hints of scarlet and orange, that little voice began trying to ruin my fun. "It's a waste of time. You never finish those books. You should keep working on that other book. You'll never publish anything if you keep this up." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Natalie would call this voice "monkey mind" after the Zen reference to that jumpy, skittery state of mind that tries to distract us from our heart's desire. I'll be the first to admit there is some truth in the little nagging voices. But there's a larger truth I want to remember. Life is very, very, very short. If hammering out 50,000 words during the 30 days of November (that's a mere 1667 words per day my friends) floats your boat, then by all means do it!
Still, I'm going to keep Dr. Sheehan's words in mind. While I'm competitive by nature and I'll be pushing my wordcount as hard as I can, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to challenge myself. Not numerically. I'm not going to try to beat my highest wordcount. Instead, I'm going to plan. You heard it right. I'm going to spend some time during October plotting my strategy. It won't be elaborate. Don't mention the word, "outline." But it will be more structure than the list of semi-related topics or random character traits I usually have by November.
So, fellow Wrimos, ready-to-be Wrimos, or never-to-be Wrimos, I'd love to hear from you. I'm sure some of you are plotters who have a master scheme for your book before the first word is written. How does that work for you? We learned some techniques in MFA school, but I want to hear YOUR version. How do you prepare to write a book? And do you have any wisdom for the new Wrimos? What do they most need to know during October to prepare for the November writing challenge ahead? I look forward to reading your advice.
Sunday, September 02, 2012
"The calm mind allows one to connect with the inner self . . . the very source of our being. That's where the music lives. That's where my music comes from." - Clarence Clemons
Writing practice is one way to write. It is so much more than mere “practice.” Even when I am working on a project, part of me is doing writing practice. I write much of my work in short spurts of timed writing. I am in the pressure cooker. It is a way to keep going for the short run and also for the long haul. It is a way to not think too much about what is next. It is a way to move on.
Writing practice calms the mind. Similar to meditation, it's a way to observe the mind. In writing practice, thoughts download and the mind flashes on the way it first captures something. You make connections using writing practice that you might not make with the rational mind.
In writing practice, you don't question. You don't judge. You don't ask what is next. You pick the topic and go. And so it’s a way to get unstuck. You just go. But you keep the place you want to land in the corner of your mind. You head away from it, but since you have it in the corner of your mind, you will wind up there. It's the same reason they tell you in driver's education not to look at the headlights of oncoming cars. If you do, you’ll wind up driving right into someone else. Your hands will follow your eyes turning the wheel ever so slightly and you'll risk a head on collision.
But in writing practice, you use that reflex to your advantage. Say I want to write about Morgan, our yellow Labrador, but I don't just want to write, "Morgan is a dog. He is yellow, gold and copper." Instead, I'll start writing about the weather, about how dry it is and how the trees are wilting and how it makes me sad. Eventually, I will begin to write about how Morgan is responding to the weather. His coat is dry and he drinks so much more water than in a regular year and how I have to take care not to run with him when it is too hot and that I must carry extra water for him so he doesn't get dehydrated on our runs.
And then I will write about how sad I am that he ages so much more quickly than we humans and how I am afraid for the day he will die because, since I love him so in the present, I will miss him so desperately when he is gone.
And I might notice how easily my mind spins into the future and into fear and how the only solution is meditation or, with writing, writing practice, because it brings us back to the present moment where Morgan is right here, next to my feet, breathing steadily in a dream-filled sleep, his paws vibrating ever so slightly.
That is how it works. You move seamlessly from one thing to another. Or sometimes, not so seamlessly. But you move anyway following the mind’s natural rhythm. It’s the way the mind moves and even if the segues seem awkward in writing practice, when we go back to edit, they make sense.
The mind always takes some time to settle. That's what writing practice lets us do as well. It gives the mind a chance to settle naturally. The mind is like a jar filed with rocks, water and sand. You shake it up and it becomes murky and you can't see the rocks. All you see is brown sludge in the jar. And when you set the jar down on the table, you can't make it settle. You can't pound the jar on the table or move it around to make it settle. It won't settle that way. You have to wait. You have to let gravity do its thing.
Eventually, the water will begin to clear. The sand will sink to the bottom and, in time, the rocks will drop and the sand will drop around them and the water will turn clear again and you will be able to see it all. But it has to have its own process. It has to have its own time. That's what you do in writing practice. You keep your hand moving as things settle. You let the mind settle and the water will rise to the top as the sand and rocks drop away. The things that obstruct your view will fall, sifting to the bottom of the jar and you will be left with the clear water. Your view will be universal.
Those are a few ways I use writing practice. If you use writing practice, I’d love to hear how you use it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
"Do not be afraid of going slowly, only of standing still." - Chinese proverb
One foot in front of the other. That's what I can do right now. Depression has been my companion for many years. It sat nearby, often in the chair beside me. Recently, it slid over and climbed onto my body like a dark cloak. Not the magic kind. I walk through the world with it hanging from my shoulders. I walk slowly, but I will not stand still.
In the meantime, I've gone back to the basics of pure writing practice with a touch of technology. My friend Wendy and I skype write. Wendy is at the core of my writing. She is one of two women I discovered writing and reading aloud to each other in Stauf's Coffee Roasters in August of 1996 when I returned from my first workshop with Natalie Goldberg. They let me join their little group and she and I have written together at different times since. She and writing practice bring me back to the ground of my being.
At an appointed time one of us initiates the video call. I pick a topic. She sets a timer. We write. The timer goes off with a sound like the barking of a dog. I smile. As she reads, I close all the other windows on my computer so I can listen and watch her face. Her words fill me. I thank her, but do not comment. Then I open the document and read only the words on the page, mistakes and all, without explanations or disclaimers. She says, "Thank you." Then I pick another topic and we do it again. Over and over and over. It is simple and healing and perfect for this slow time in my life.
What does your writing look like when life takes you down a notch or seven? I'd love to hear about it.
Friday, July 27, 2012
I know. I know. This is a writing blog, but still. I want to win a contest and so I am posting a link to this contest in which you can win an iFitness race belt!
Then again, writers could use it. The GU slots are perfect for holding highlighters of up to six different colors! And you could use the pouch for paperclips and binder clips and smallish pens. It's like a holster for your accessories!
I already own an iFitness belt (a different model) and I ADORE it! It does not ride up, does not jiggle, does not wobble, and the bottles (not included in the contest) do not leak. It's simply a fabulous race belt.
For details, go here: http://how2runfast.com/post/28088280256/win-an-ifitness-ultimate-race-belt
Okay. I'm done. Go back to writing!!!
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
“Love is the spirit that motivates the artist's journey.” - Eric Maisel
As anyone who reads my blog or receives the newsletter knows, I suffer from various forms of malaise that might be called "writer's block." As soon as I read the title Mastering Creative Anxiety, I knew this book would help. I ordered the book and began using the lessons immediately.
Why this book? First, the title alone properly identified the problem. According to creativity coach, Eric Maisel, I don't actually have a block. What I have is anxiety around creating. I also grow anxious around some non-writing activities, but this was the first time I'd named what went on in my head when I sat down to write as anxiety.
Second, the book is practical. It offers twenty-two specific tools and examples of how to use them. I appreciate that Maisel gets to the solution quickly so I'm not muddling around. I already know I've got a problem. I want to know what to do about it.
Third, Maisel's tone and strategies are both firm and kind. There's no shame in this book and no slacking either. Gently, yet clearly, he explains that success depends on applying the suggestions.
Fourth, and possibly most important, Maisel addresses all the different aspects of the creative life and the appropriate tool for that stage in the process. One day I'm tackling the rough draft. One or two tools (including a technique very similar to writing practice) works for that. Another day I'm in the revision process. A different tool helps there. In the promotion process, still another method is offered. Realistically, the book approaches different aspects of creativity in different ways.
The jury is still out, of course. I am working on, but have not yet finished the current revisions nor once again taken up promotion which I set aside awhile back. I'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, do you recognize anxiety in your process? If so, what techniques work for you in the various stages of the writing life? I'd love to hear about it.
Sunday, June 03, 2012
"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." ~ Ernest Hemingway
Wouldn't it be nice to discover the actual, honest to goodness, true secret of writing? Natalie Goldberg even teaches a workshop by that title. I attended it and while I found it extremely helpful, it wasn't a total fix. I'm not sure there is a secret. See, writing is a moving target. Each time I come up with a plan, it works for a while then stops. Today's solution is tomorrow's waste of time.
Right now, it's working if I focus on quantity, not quality. I gave the book about my father and I (working title MEMORIAL) to a literary consultant. She gave it back covered in questions. Three hundred and nine questions to be precise. If I thought about all 309 questions at once, I would scream. Instead, I'm allowing myself to work one question at a time. If I finish three questions in a session, that's huge. And I don't worry about the quality of what I'm writing. It's all about quantity. For now, this is working. When it stops working or when I finish question 309, I'll come up with another strategy.
What's working for you right now? I'd love to hear about it.
Friday, May 25, 2012
I'm a running geek and a writer and I loved THE PERFECT MILE. I listened to it on CD.
It's the story of three athletes, Roger Bannister from England, John Landy from Australia, and Wes Santee from Kansas, USA, each of whom wanted to be the first to break the four-minute mile barrier, a feat many thought beyond the capability of any man. Author Neal Bascomb weaved the three men's backgrounds and race histories into a tale with enough tension to keep me listening despite the fact that I knew many of the outcomes beforehand. Without creating cliffhangers that might annoy readers, he left one story and moved onto another at such a place where it left the reader wondering what happened next. He also answered all the reader's questions generated by the story at the place where the question was raised. This helped create smooth transitions among the stories of the three men.
In addition to the skillful storytelling, I was also impressed with the tremendous amount of research that went into this book. Newspaper headlines from each race (and there were many) as well as quotations from individuals pepper the book with authenticity. This is creative nonfiction at its best.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
"[T]he one thing I want for you is to recognize when you are really singing in writing practice and honor that. Trust that. When you were screaming on the page. Maybe that doesn't make a whole book but that is the true seed." - Natalie Goldberg
Sometimes I see what Natalie's talking about in a student in my class. A writer entranced in her work leans forward, pen scribbling, face intent. Strong nouns and active verbs spew from her pen. And when she reads, it's the same thing. The look on her face shows she is surprised at how good it is, how apt the phrasing, how appropriate the descriptions are to the situation. She looks up, amazed at what came from her heart and onto the page.
She's not thinking when she writes from that place. It's beyond thought. It's just fingers and images. There's nothing in between, no separation between what she sees in her mind and how the words flow onto the page.
Sometimes it feels clunky as she writes it. Sometimes it is fluid. She never knows which it will be until she reads. The brain is a great trickster. It wants her to be confused. The brain knows, but is afraid for her. It wants her to stay far from the fire inside. It wants to protect her, but in doing so, it shields her from her own great power.
The brain will try to nullify the words before they can be spoken. It will reprimand even as the hand keeps moving across the page and the words wind out in long sinewy rows looping and lilting without regard to the lines. The heart remembers how. It knows what it's like to be free on the page. It knows how to open a throat and let it howl until the sound reaches the paper.
And so the key, still, decades after Natalie first said it, is the same. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving.
Do you remember what it feels like to scream on the page? Have you ever sung in writing practice? I'd love to hear about it.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
- ultramarathon runner Caballo Blanco aka Micah True (Died April of 2012)
as quoted by Chris McDougall in the book BORN TO RUN
No lie. I wish writing were easier, but I make it harder than it has to be. I fight the trail. Recently, I've been working with a freelance editor. She's pushing me deeper into the work. She wants to know my motivations and intentions and the motivations and intentions of the people I've written about, many of whom are dead. I'm not sure I want to go where she's asking and I'm having trouble moving forward. I'm uncomfortable, tired, and grumpy. I haven't relaxed into the trail. Instead of leaning into the hills and letting go on the downsides, I'm grimacing, squealing and twirling. That's why I'm so uncomfortable.
When I'm ready to stop fighting, I'll just look down and see a path ahead of me. I don't have to like it, but it's the trail I'm on. It's time to relax into reality and continue working. I'm more likely to find the answers when I'm at the page.
Do you ever fight the trail? If so, please share your adventure. You may leave a comment by clicking the little "post a comment" link at the bottom of the page.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
I don't feel like writing today, but I'm writing anyway because that's what writers do.
Last week a coworker of Ed's who was also a friend died. This week a friend of both of ours died. Good men they were. Middle aged. One 49 and the other 56. Gentle men who had a kind word for everyone and who often made both Ed and I smile. This dying business is not unusual, but I feel a deeper sadness about these deaths. I am altered by them.
I tried to think of something else to write about and it wasn't working. Then I remembered Natalie Goldberg's admonition to "go for the jugular." She used to tell us, when there was something we were trying to avoid, that we must write directly into it. If we did not, she said, the thing we wanted to push away would still be with us silently on the page nudging aside whatever else we tried to work on. And so I heed her command.
I just feel sad. There is the unanswerable question of why these men and not some others are gone. Men with children. Men with families. Men who lived good lives. Why them? And it raises more selfish questions about the closer loved ones I have lost. Why my niece? Why the young? Why anyone, really? And there is no answer. And so I will also take Rilke's suggestion and just try to love the question.
On my eight-mile run today I thought about these men and the many others who have died before them. And I felt the gratitude I have for my husband, our dog, our home, and the other family members and friends I am so honored to have in my life. And I summoned gratitude for the time I got to spend with the men who died so recently. And I felt the wind on my face and my legs moving beneath me and smelled the hint of spring in the air. I felt sadness mixed with joy and the strange blend of everything that makes a human life.
When I got home, I wrote it all down and I'm giving it to you because I don't know what else to say. This is what is real right now. This is what is here in front of me. And now it is yours. I offer it to you to do with as you wish, but I hope you will take a moment to write about what you love and what you have lost and about the unanswerable questions.
And if you feel moved to comment below and share some of these things from your life, I would love to hear about them. Just click the little "post a comment" link below.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
It wasn't actually the happiness or the idea of being happy that turned me off so much as her driven, perfectionistic approach to finding happiness, but more about that later. Plus, it would have been better if I hadn't tried to read the entire book over just a few days. It is probably better savored, chapter by chapter, but in my own driven way I'm trying to read 50 books this year and so I barrelled through.
Even though I wasn't always happy while reading the book, it was well-written and the evidence she cited in support of the methods she used to increase her happiness interested me. She had done her homework and, if she is to be believed, she was in fact happier by the end of the year. Plus, she felt like the people around her were happier as a bonus.
I really appreciated the first of her "Twelve Commandments:" Be Gretchen. How many times have any of us done something because it's what we thought someone else wanted only for it to turn out disastrous when, if we had been honest about we wanted instead, the result would have been better? Of all the information in her book, this lesson was the strongest.
A second strong message (another of her "Twelve Commandments"), "Act the way I want to feel," is one I've been attempting to apply for many years using the slogan "act as if," so seeing evidence to support the effectiveness of this technique brought home just how important it is.
While these two adages might seem to conflict (How exactly can she be Gretchen while acting the way she wants to feel?) in fact they worked well together in her life and in my own. For example, there are many days when I don't want to run, but I act like I am happy to run and when I'm done running, 99% of the time I am much happier.
As I was reading, I repeatedly wished the author studied the Enneagram. I could see the driven, perfectionist "1" personality type so strongly in the way she set up a very structured challenge and in the character traits that made parts of it difficult for her. All these attempts to change herself simply made me tired. I also saw my own "9" personality type whenever I wanted to balance what she was saying with some opposite approach, find a middle-of-the-road solution to a problem she faced, or just lie down because I found her insistent demands on herself exhausting. Each of us sees the world through our own personality lens and seeing the world through her "1" eyes made me both laugh and cringe.
Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I'm not prepared to begin such a structured happiness project anytime soon. I think I've already been doing my own mish-mash version of it most of my adult life.
Friday, February 03, 2012
In 1996, I attended my first writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. By June of 1997, I had convinced my adventurous husband that we should put our house on the market and move to Taos, New Mexico so I could study with Natalie year-round. Now, mind you, Natalie didn't have any kind of plan for people to study with her year-round, but I thought, if I just got out of Ohio, I could write. I mean, the sun! The moutains! The fresh, high-altitude air! What's not to love about a tiny art town in the mountains of New Mexico? Well, one day I intend to write a book answering that question, but suffice it to say, when we moved, I brought my chronic depression and poor writing habits along.
Fast forward three years. The house in Taos was sold and we were back in central Ohio. Hubby would have preferred California or Hawaii, but I was convinced only Ohio would do. And guess what? Writing wasn't any easier back in Ohio.
Don't get me wrong. I benefit from a good change of scenery every once in awhile, especially if said change of scenery lacks internet connection. But I don't kid myself that a geographic cure will fix the problem. Writers need to be able to write when it's time to write no matter where they find themselves. For several years the best writing spot was whatever doctor's office waiting room I found myself in as I accompanied my mother on her visits to a variety of physicians. I'd take earplugs or headphones and my laptop. I'd tune out the other patients and caregivers and write. I didn't have a choice. I was getting my M.F.A. and the deadlines weren't flexible!
The moral of the story was put eloquently in the blog article quoted above. Wherever you go, there you are. If you can't write in your three-bedroom ranch in central Ohio, chances are you won't be able to write in the mountains of New Mexico.
What about you? Have you ever attempted a geographic cure? Have you ever been lured into the notion that "ideal conditions" could solve your woes? As always, I'd love to hear about it.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
I waited to read the reviews until I finished the book because I had my suspicious about how they would read. I was right. Readers are divided into two camps: those who loved the book's world and those who hated the book's plot. I'm in the first category. I've often heard writers cautioned aginst falling too in love with the world they create, especially in science fiction and fantsy. I must admit that Ms. Morgenstern is very much in love with the world of this book, but I don't fault her. I'm in love with it too.
This was not a book I would have normally picked up. A librarian friend suggested this book at a NaNoWriMo Write-in. The author wrote it during National Novel Writing Month and it is her first published novel. While the plot left a bit to be desired and I can see where the critics find it lacking in resolution and conflict, I loved it and did not need to know any more than was told. Besides, I was smitten by the world she'd fashioned! Also, it's a love story, really, and I'm a sucker for a love story. Read it and draw your own conclusions!!!
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Bingham has something of a cult following among slow runners like myself. A self-proclaimed, "Penguin," a term he coined in a previous book to capture what he actually looked like when he saw himself in a store window while he was running down a city street, Bingham previously published a column in Runner's World and now is a regular contributor to Competitor. He didn't take up running until he was 43, but when he did, he fell completely in love. In this book he explains how his "adult-onset athleticism," allowed him to make up for being a poor athlete as a child and claim his place in the running world.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read, I was sad to see that he recycled some of the stories he'd told in his previous books. The incidents make excellent points, but I wanted something new. He did deliver that in other chapters, especially regarding the undeniable fact that there will come a day when you realize your best running days are behind you. And, if you really love running, you will continue to run anyway. I needed to hear that!