This stumbling journey after all….

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Gratitude. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because this is the time of year it suddenly rises to the surface of everyone’s mind. I guess it’s easier for us white-folk to think of Thanksgiving as a time of gratitude, rather than a celebration of the subjugation of Native people. Don’t get me wrong, I think gratitude is important. VERY IMPORTANT. When you are grateful for what you have (material and nonmaterial), you are much less likely to be grabby for what other people have. When you practice focusing on gratitude, you pay attention less to what your small self wants right now and remember everything you actually already possess.

And so I am grateful right now. I have many reasons to be. I just had major surgery, and I’m grateful for my super-star surgeon and the staff of the South Peninsula Hospital for seeing me through. Nothing like a little abdominal surgery to remind you of how grateful you are when your body is healing and getting stronger. I’m grateful for my partner who not only helped me before/after surgery, but honestly helps me every damn day (even when he doesn’t know it).

I’m grateful for all of my far-flung friends. There were messages and cards and texts to bring a smile to my face. Pictures of fancy boots to hold my interest when I was at my lowest. Special shout-out to one Kate Carroll de Gutes who never fails to remind me to be nice to myself and is generally an incredible person. Special second shout-out to Peggy Shumaker who in her funniest and kindest way was the velvet hammer of “take care of yourself.”

I’m grateful for this little life I’ve stumbled into. When I was at my most uncomfortable post-surgery, I would just sit on the sofa and watch the sun move along the mountain ridge, the clouds shifting and blushing, snow coming down, Pacific wrens with their exclamation point tails bouncing around. This place has broken open my heart. If I could bottle it up, this wonder, I’d give it to every person who felt alone, felt broken, felt greedy, felt cut-off from the rest of us. Just one whiff of wonder to break open their hearts as well. Let in a little awe.

And so on I go, a little more slowly than usual, writing poetry, reading, putting together the Finding Your Lost Words course which starts in a few days (quick register if you’re gonna!). That’s just another thing for which I’m grateful, this opportunity to share my practice with other people, this chance to open the door for other writers to one way that I’ve learned to be in the world. It’s been a tough old year for all of us. Let’s take December to heal a little, reflect on what we have, help others with what they might need.

You can do this….

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Early this year, I dipped my toes into the great big online learning world. In January, I offered Haiku Path, a writing course, and it was so much fun to both create the mailings and to interact with the participants. I had wanted to offer a low-pressure learning experience that would allow folks to participate as much or as little as they liked. And the feedback was very positive. I was so pleased with the diversity and beauty of the haiku that were written!

Because I am an early morning writer, I like to imagine people alone at their dawn-lit kitchen tables or tucked away in a coffee shop, mulling over the missive they’ve received, putting their pens to the page. No pressure to perform in a certain way, no nasty feedback, none of the anxieties that new writers can face in classrooms. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I like to imagine myself standing behind new writers, with a hand on their shoulder, whispering in their ears You can do this.

It was not so long ago that I was the person who had shelves of how-to writing books (before online learning really took off). I, too, struggled alone to find writing prompts, get feedback, keep my momentum. I had a full-time job and a heart full of wishes to be a writer, but no idea of how to even get started. How I wish that there had been someone there whispering in my ear keep going, don’t stop, you’re writing! 

Let me be that person for you. I’m offering three courses – one per month.

Finding Your Lost Words: a one month jumpstart into journaling

Starting December 1, each day you will receive a writing prompt to help you not only get a jumpstart on keeping a journal for 2018, but also to set up some concrete writing goals that excite you. In addition you’ll receive some food for thought and encouragement from me and from writers throughout the ages to help you along the way.

I’ve been keeping a journal for over fifteen years, and I can honestly say that it not only helps me sort out how I feel about what is happening in my life, but it is also the garden from which most of my poetry springs. Let me help you create a daily habit that will sustain your desire to write creatively and help you be more mindful and attentive to your world.

Haiku Path (This is the same course that was offered in January 2017. If you missed it then, now’s your chance.)

Starting January 1, 2018, we’ll walk the Haiku Path together. This is truly a poetry-as-daily-practice offering to help you start the year off creating your own path to paying closer attention to the world around you. In 2015, I wrote a haiku each evening and though it taught me to be a better poet, it also taught me how to be more alive every hour of the day.

You will receive an email every other day throughout the month offering instruction in haiku technique, sample haiku from the masters and from contemporary poets, and a writing prompt to consider during the following days. You will find yourself looking at the world with new eyes, and I hope you will start to develop a practice that will carry you and your writing further as you continue into the new year.

This year, if there are more than ten participants, we will have a private Facebook Group so that you can share work if you wish.

At the end of the month, I will read five of the haiku you’ve written and offer individual feedback.

Writing Love

Starting in February 2018, receive twice weekly emails that contain both instruction and inspiration to write love poems. The subject is entirely up to you, but this four-week course is meant to help you explore the imagery and language of love. There will be lessons specific to developing fresh metaphor, sonically rich writing, and playing with form. Each mailing will include sample poem(s), instruction, and a specific prompt.

At the end of the course, you will be able to send me two poems for a personal critique.

Each of the courses is offered on sliding scale, so that folks can pay what is comfortable for them. This is one of the ways that I support myself so that I can have the flexibility that a life writing poetry requires. Please sign up at http://www.beingpoetry.net/learn/ and spread the word to your friends! I can’t wait to work with you!

Where does your shadow live?

About a decade ago, I went through several years riddled with the bitter burnt holes of panic attacks. They’d begin with a little cramp in my stomach, a flush along my neck, my hands becoming colder and number, and my mind spinning far out of control. Under their influence, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t reason, I couldn’t even properly explain why I was so frightened that it felt like my heart would burst out of my chest. Sure some of it could be traced to traveling through the Whittier Tunnel, some of it could traced to a highly stressful job, but really most of it lived in the folds of my brain.

My mother suffered from crippling anxiety and panic attacks. When I was a kid, she almost never left the house. At church, we had to sit in the last pew by the door so that she could escape if she needed to. At home, she would lock herself in the bedroom with the television turned up loud. I’m quite sure that her thought process consisted of a constant loop of all the things that might happen to her, or her children, or her husband. She kept her outside world in a continual state of immaculate order because her inner world was so chaotic.

Her anxiety manifested in my life as a child. She wouldn’t let me run. Wouldn’t let me stray too far from the house. Wouldn’t let me get dirty. Her conversation with me was mostly a litany of all the things that could happen to me if I wasn’t careful. So, I grew up to be careful. I internalized that continual catastrophizing. I used to joke that my mother could come into any room and tell you what in the room was going to kill you. I don’t joke about that anymore.

And yet, in my twenties and thirties, I went on to live in dangerous places, walk down dangerous streets, hang out with dangerous people. I traveled alone with little preparation. I experimented in ways that could have easily turned out badly. It’s only later that anxiety came home to roost so powerfully.

This is what I’ve learned about living with it – it’s like the tide, it comes and goes. You can not resist it. It will come as it wills, and if you don’t suppress it, it will subside. You can live your life to provide some inner bedrock. Get enough sleep. Drink a lot of water. Get outside under the big sky. Take a lot of deep breaths.

When I am not in the throes of it, fear is an interesting subject. What are we as a culture afraid of? What am I, personally, afraid of? How does that shadow manifest? How have cultures throughout time excised what was feared sometimes to their detriment? I am writing poems about shadows. I’m reading a lot of work by writers whose shadows consumed them, Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath. I’m looking at the ways light works as well. Because there is no shadow without light, and no light without shadow.

Of what are you afraid on Halloween, an American spectacle of our shadow sides? How does that shadow live in your writing or art? How can you let it breath a little more? Remember, what we suppress grows, and what we let out into the air can dissipate. And like the tide, nothing truly goes away, but returns again and again.

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