I’ve Moved My Blog!

28 03 2010

I’ve moved my blog to my own server. The url is http://www.writingthroughlife.com. Please check it out, sign up for my free Ezine, “Journaling Through Life,” and subscribe to my blog for the latest journaling and writing posts.

I hope to see you there!

The Blank Page

27 03 2010

FACING a blank page, I wonder, how should I fill it? What can or should I say?

I’ve heard writers tell tales about how the blank page fills them with dread. They worry about what they will write. Wonder how they can communicate something meaningful. Agonize about what it means to be creative. Self-Doubt and Criticism walk uninvited into the writer’s mind and create such a din, the writer can only distract herself, by checking her email or doing the laundry—anything to get away from that blank page and those horrible visitors.

But there’s another way to approach the blank page—with Whimsy. She’s so much more fun to play with than Self-Doubt and Criticism, and it only takes a little vigilance to keep them out. After all, these characters can only come in when allowed. If, as soon as we hear their voices, we tell them to leave, they have no choice; they must go.

Whimsy, sister to Joy and Imagination, loves to fill pages with broad strokes. If she doesn’t like what she’s done, she uses another color and starts again. She smiles as she works, enjoys the process, and is not concerned with the outcome. She knows that whatever she does will have meaning, because it comes from a place of deep internal motivation. She understands that whatever there is to be shared will find its way to the light of day. And this blank page—no longer blank perhaps—is the perfect playground in which to let it emerge.

once Whimsy gets started, Joy and Imagination (who can’t stand to be left out of anything) sneak in. I say they should be welcomed with open arms and invited into the mind, because when all three sisters are present, there is much laughter, and writing becomes fun. Joy and Imagination encourage Whimsy as she works. Imagination, in particular, loves to brainstorm and give Whimsy ideas.

Later, after the three sisters have done their work, I like to invite their aunt, Refinement, to join us for tea. Whimsy is a wonderful guest, but when she’s done she feels exhausted and needs a nap. Refinement, always thoughtful and constructive, appraises Whimsy’s work. If the writer agrees (Refinement always asks permission), she’ll invite Skill along, and together the two add detail, correct minor mistakes, and move things around so that the reader’s eye can flow from one part to the next, taking in the entire work.

We writers need only lend our hands and hearts to this process. It’s a thing of beauty, a kind of miracle, really. Like watching a flower unfold in all its unique, perfect loveliness, feelings, flavors, and colorful words fill the page, until a story is born.

Getting Stuck

16 03 2010

AS AN ARTIST OR WRITER, what does it mean to “get stuck,” and perhaps more important, how do I get “unstuck”?

Caged MonkeyThe words getting stuck bring several pictures to my mind. In one, my foot is caught in something, perhaps under a fence or a rock, and I can’t pull it loose. In another, I have fallen into a deep hole with steep sides and no ladder. In a third, I have to make a decision between two options, neither one attractive. Whether you share those metaphors with me or have your own, the meaning is clear to all: we feel unable to move, unable to go forward, immobilized by indecision, fear, or circumstance, and it doesn’t feel good. We want to do something, anything to get out of our situation, out of that feeling. Sometimes, if we don’t see a solution to our problem right away, we are tempted to lose hope and give in to the state of stuck-ness.

I am reminded of the parable of the two mice who fall into a bowl of cream. They don’t know how to swim and the sides of the bowl are steep. There is no way out. After a while, one of the mice gives up and drowns, but the other keeps paddling and paddling in his efforts to stay afloat, until, suddenly, he realizes that the cream is thickening as a result of all his thrashing. He keeps thrashing and as it turns to butter, he is able to climb out. Sometimes becoming unstuck is simply a matter of thrashing around until a way out materializes. Doing anything is better than giving up.

As a writer, when I feel stuck, I paddle around, staying afloat with whatever resources are at hand.  When I don’t know what to write about, I get a writing prompt (such as, “What does it mean to ‘get stuck’?”) and write about it. I may write over and over again, “I have no idea what getting stuck means,” until I have a picture, a metaphor, an example, or an emotion. Suddenly, I have something to write about. If I feel stuck writing about something in particular—perhaps my description is bland or my emotional expression flat—I’ll use an exercise to write about something else entirely in order to access the creative part of my brain. Or perhaps I’ll go finger paint for a while. Nine times out of ten, when I come back to my original piece, I am able to describe the scene with more emotion and sensual detail.

If I feel stuck in another way, particularly when I don’t know how to accomplish something, I get help. I often get that help through books. Or I go online and do some research. Then I take action based on what I’ve learned. Taking action always makes me feel better, and though I might be paddling around and not really getting anywhere, eventually something will solidify and I’ll be on my merry way.

So now, in the way of sharing our tricks with one another, I offer this little writing prompt: What do the words getting stuck mean to you? And how do you get unstuck? Leave your comments below—one mouse (or squirrel) to another.

Journaling Practice: Morning Pages or Evening Notes?

8 03 2010

THIS MORNING, I was thinking about the benefits of daily journaling. I am in the practice of writing in the mornings, shortly after awakening. But sometimes, if I haven’t had a chance, or if it has been a particularly eventful day, I write in the evenings. As I thought about it, I wondered if either practice is better than the other.

Each time of day has its advantages and disadvantages. When I write in the morning, I am able to recall dreams, thoughts I had in the night, and to purge thoughts that have been bothering or worrying me. Writing early in the day jump-starts my creativity and activates my mind, like physical exercise, which gets the blood and lymph moving in the body. On the other hand, when I’m groggy, perhaps because I’ve not had enough sleep, I tend to write about pedestrian stuff, like how groggy I feel. Also, I write about feelings and events of the day before. Wouldn’t it be better to write about them in the evening, while the day’s experiences are still fresh?

Writing in the evening gives me the opportunity to debrief my day, to write about all the things that happened and how I feel about them. If I’ve had a stressful day, it allows me to de-stress. Perhaps I even sleep better as a result. On the other hand, thinking and writing about something that causes anxiety can sometimes intensify my worry. Or it can stir up related topics and feelings. Also, already a night owl, I tend to stay up late when I’m writing at night; the same creativity that ignites in the morning fires up in the evening, with the result that I stay up much later than I should. Another factor to consider is that I usually spend time with my family and Significant Other (SO) in the evening. If I disappear into my office to write before going to bed, I may lose that intimate connection, or my SO may feel spurned for my writing practice.

These are some of the pro’s and con’s of each time of day. The best choice may be to journal ten minutes in the morning and ten at night. Ultimately, the time of day one journals is a personal choice, based on factors ranging from work schedule to individual internal clock. The main thing is to find a time of day that works and stick with it, so that journaling becomes as much a part of life as eating breakfast (or dinner). Journaling offers its most precious gifts when its done daily.

Clover Heaven

1 03 2010

ON A RECENT WALK, the afternoon light filtered softly through a thick web of oak branches and leaves, the tree branches forming an archway that beckoned me into nature’s hall and to some magical place beyond. Spider web  filaments, stretching from branch to branch, danced in the breeze. Beneath my feet, a delicate carpet of clover glowed like emerald green velvet. I imagined that if I lay down on it, it would smell like newly cut grass. And it would not be crushed, but by some magical property would hold my weight and spring back unfazed when I arose again.

As the sun moved lower on the horizon, the clover burst into blossoms of cold, green fire that in some strange way reminded me of the lacy stems of baby’s breath.  Wanting a closer view, I lay flat on the ground.  The earth’s fertile aromas—moist, peaty, and decaying—filled my nostrils. Needles of dry oak leaves poked my ribs through my shirt, and my knees and hipbones sunk into the soft ground.

I thought, “I have become an ant,” and I began to climb the towering clover stems to that magical place of gold and jade-green clouds. I knew that reaching it, I would reach heaven, and its streets would be paved with amber gold. But as I climbed, the sun’s spotlight moved to another actor, the brilliance dimmed, and the filaments of glowing light began to fade from sight. Entranced, I lay still as the earth’s damp cold spread into my body.  I became one with the dissolving leaves and spreading moss and knew that when the next visitor arrived, she would see only a fresh growth of green clover where my body once lay.


17 02 2010

IT RAINED ALL NIGHT last night. These forever gray skies are beginning to get me down a little, and I long for sunshine and warmth. Not the kind of warmth that comes from sweaters and heating vents, but the soak-into-my-bones kind of warmth that  comes only from the sun—or a tanning bed, and I am avoiding those these days. Still, there’s a kind of curl-up-in-the-corner hibernation feel to these cold, overcast days that also feels good. It’s what gives me permission to sleep in, to be less productive than I might.

So, when the alarm went off at 7:30 this morning, I just shut it off and went back to sleep. I think I could have slept until noon—if I would ever allow myself to do that, which I don’t. Especially on a day like today, when there is so much to do. And there is always so much to do. So I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower at 9:30 am, grateful for the opportunity to get some extra sleep and for the darkness that keeps me at my desk.
If the sun was out, I’d want to be outdoors riding my bicycle, walking, soaking in the sunshine-filled, spring air. I’d want to be out photographing the bright greens and yellows of the ubiquitous mustard which, though it’s beginning to pop up here and there, will spring forcefully from the earth at the first hint of warmth. Here in Napa, nothing says spring like the mustard-infused vineyards and hillsides.

Some people say that California has no seasons. People who’ve never lived here, of course. We have all four seasons, but they are more subtle than those in more severe climates. Spring brings rain and wildflowers, crisp morning air, and puffy, milky-white clouds that drift across the sky, purposefully heading south with the birds. Summer settles lazily here in Napa Valley, drawing fruit to all the trees, the vineyards, and the heat of the afternoons, driving us indoors or under the shade of trees. It’s a dry kind of heat that settles into our lungs and weighs heavy on our shoulders. It propels us to the beach, or up into the nearby redwoods, where these tall stewards keep the air cool and fresh. Fall is a glorious feast of colors—golds, crimson reds, and sepia browns. Crisp mornings and crystal, star-filled nights announce the coming of winter. Here, winter doesn’t come with snow (well, rarely), but frosty mornings, clear night skies and then, depending on the year, rain and clouds, morning fog and flood warnings.

This winter has been particularly wet, and I suppose that’s why I so long for spring. I stand grateful in this moment, thinking of the abundance of wonder this earth offers me each day. Gratitude for sun and rain, spring and fall, and always, the hope of new growth, new harvests, and new life.


12 02 2010

ON MONDAY, I returned home from a weekend writer’s conference in Austin, Texas, bags heavy with books, inspirational quotes, and new writing tools. The conference, hosted by the Story Circle Network, an organization for women lifewriters (people who write about life), is held every two years. This was the second time I have attended. Besides being a well-organized and motivating event, it gives me an excuse to visit my oldest son and fiancé who live in this most diverse city in Texas.

Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett offered a pre-conference workshop titled “Writing with Heart: Five Easy Steps to Writing with Emotion, Energy and Color.” Familiar with Matilda and Kendra’s work, I was anxious to attend their class, and I was not disappointed. They taught a technique they call “Deconstruction” to help writers pull sensual and physical details from deep within our memories and get those details on paper. Once we have the basic ingredients, we can mix those details in creative ways to form the substance of our stories.

Heather Summerhayes Cariou, author of Sixty-Five Roses, gave us one of the most entertaining and inspirational keynotes I have ever heard. The next morning, I attended her workshop, “Panning for Gold: Using Imagery and Metaphor to Enrich Your Memoir.” Like her keynote address, the workshop was fast-paced, yet guided us to dive deeply into our own souls. Many of us had tears in our eyes at the end of the workshop. “Remember to breathe,” said Heather. And that’s just about the best advice one can give a memoirist.

All of the sessions I attended were like these first two—rich with information, demonstration, encouraging and stimulating, offering us the chance to share our writing with other women writers. Perhaps the greatest gifts of all were the opportunities to meet so many women with whom I had only interacted online, to see the smiles on their faces, share heartfelt stories of our lives, and encourage one another in our writing paths.

As I returned home, attempting to assimilate all that I had experienced, I felt happy and fulfilled. Yet, I also carried a bittersweet sadness at having to leave those sisters and my son behind. We women will continue to talk online, through classes, and through our writing and reading circles. But I am convinced that having that real, living connection is very important. So, this is the year that I will begin a Story Circle Network writing circle in my community. I may begin an online, interactive blog as well. So stay tuned. This promises to be a fruitful writing year.


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