Dance, Let Go, Write

So the weaker I get, the stronger I become – St. Paul

Let Go, Dance, Write

© 1947 State Library Queensland, Flickr | PD | via Wylio

Vigilantes of Love were playing at Jubilee. I was 19, a freshman in college, and I was dancing.  Alone. Right in front of the stage. I still have no memory of making a choice to get up and dance, but dance I did.  I was lost in the moment, freed from my constant, sometimes debilitating self-awareness, and I was jubilant.

That was the only time in my life where I became – without the “help” of alcohol – completely uninhibited, and when I remember that dancing, I am proud because I let go.

Sometimes when I write, I am able to call forth that self that let me walk to the front of the stage.  I’m able to drop in and let myself float in the pool of words without feeling like I need to steer them or make progress or produce.  Goodness, it feels nice when I don’t feel like I need to have a “product.”

In our culture, we think of loss of control as a supreme negative, and it certainly can be when we abandon thought and care for other people or our own well-being.  We also think that if we are not “producing something,” particularly something that makes us money, we are wasting time or being lazy. (Anyone else hear that “lazy” word chanted by that ugly voice in your heard?)

But sometimes, it’s good to just let go, to stop trying to plan every minute of the day, to allow ourselves to take that back road we’ve been wondering about, to sit and just let words flow forth without a goal or a point on our outline in mind.  Sometimes – far more often than we imagine, I think – being “weak” – living without a schedule or to do list or agenda – is really really important.

This morning, I read these verses from St. Paul, and then I read some of Henri Nouwen’s words.  While we are certainly made far from strong by God’s active presence in our lives, I wonder, too, if we aren’t made more strong when we get out of the way and let our “weakness” live big.  Maybe  some of our own strength comes through when we don’t try to steer so hard into control.  Maybe. . .

In terms of writing, I want to let go of a few things to see how the weakness brings strength:

    • Writing for a product.  While I do have books in mind and blog posts to do, I also want to write things that I simply want or need to write.  Maybe they will be journal entries or poems even. Maybe I will do something with them later, maybe I won’t.  But the practice of writing will matter more than the product.
    • Writing neatly. I am very wed to lines on paper, but more and more I want to write and draw and color and paste things in my journal.  I see Elora Nicole creating these beautiful journals and pieces of art that combine words and images, and each time, I feel my heart quicken. More of that.
    • Embracing more art.  In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown includes a great discussion on art that I am not able to find at the moment on the audio recording, but she tells a story about how art is the stuff that isn’t easily circumscribed by rules.  I want to live more in that place.

I don’t really know what any of this means for how I want to live each day, but I can tell you this – it’s going to get messier, more musical, and involve a lot more dancing.  I can’t dance, so I’m expecting a whole lot of strength to shine through in that weakness.

If you were to let go of control and product, what might your days look like?

 

I don’t listen to the radio much, but the other night on the way back from the Writing Retreat, this song came on, and I’ve been dancing to it ever since.  (Note, I don’t love the catcalling of the women in the video, but man, Mark Ronson can move.) 

Coaching Writers and Seizing Joy

Coaching Writers and Seizing Joy

Our new barn.

I’ve been sitting here for a half an hour, staring out the window at the weeping cheering on our drive and the holly across the way at the Lohr farm.  I’m just sitting and staring . . . and feeling very, very full and content and whole in a way I have not for a while now.

Yesterday, I had the honor of leading a writing retreat at a friend’s beautiful farmstead in Boiling Springs, PA.  9 of us sat in her living room and shared stories and frustrations and doubts and fears.  At least 3 of us cried, including me. At the end of the day, if I was reading the loosened jaws, the bright eyes, and the tired postures correctly, we poured ourselves out and found ourselves filled up a bit there.  I pray the participants walked away with something they can take hope and purpose in; I know I did.

Okay, I have to stop here.  I have just spent the last 20 minutes rewriting this paragraph because, well, I feel some sort of shame and misplaced pride in saying this . . . but I need to say it. . . I like leading retreats for writers, and honestly, I think I’m kind of good at it.   I feel all my training, all my passion, all my experience coming together in those conversations, and when I walk away, I feel almost delirious with the kind of joy that only comes when we let all of ourselves out into the world.

But something in me says that I’m bragging there, being prideful, taking credit for something that is not mine to take credit for. Something makes me think I’m delusional, that the people in the retreats I run do not get anything at all from what I’ve done, that they leave with the feeling that they wasted a whole day. That voice, of course, is the one that shouts mostly loudly when I’ve done something risky and vulnerable and true to myself.  Like lead a retreat. . . or write a blog post about it.

Still, here is what I know – when I drove home from Pennsylvania yesterday, I was fairly glowing with joy.  I spent the first two hours in gleeful remembering, reviewing conversations and even things I said that spoke more truth than I knew I understood.  Then, I turned on the radio and bopped along to Mariah Carey and Third Eye Blind, so overjoyed that I honestly thought my fever might have spiked again.

Now, though, in the quiet aftermath of the joy delirium, I still feel it, trembling with light at the core of me.  And oh, does that feel good!

I am enthused and filled up with passion for the workshops and retreats we have coming up here on the farm, and I am excited about the opportunity to learn and to share a little bit of what I have learned with the people who come here.

Last night, when I pulled in the driveway, my headlights raked the new barn – the space we have built for many things – but particularly for retreats and concerts.  If I could have made Trapper the Subaru do a backflip, I would have.  My joy was that complete.

May you live into all that gives you joy today – without shame, without guilt, without false humility – because you are made to be joyful and full and delighted in who you are. 

 

 

Like Norway But Warmer – A Writers Write Interview with Rebecca Snow

I know I say this almost every week, but one of the greatest joys of this blog is that I get to share interviews with amazing writers.  This week is no exception. Seriously, a woman who puts Marilynne Robinson’s work at the top of her favorite book list – you know I love her.  Please get to know Rebecca Snow and pick up Glassmusic

1. Tell me about your latest project.Glassmusic by Rebecca Snow

My debut novel, Glassmusic, was released from Conundrum Press in November 2014. I started it back in 1992 for my master’s thesis, put it aside for over 15 years, and finally returned to it at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It is a literary, coming-of-age novel set in Norway in the early twentieth century, from a village girl’s point of view. My great-grandfather, Matias Orheim, first inspired the story. He was a blind musician and received a medal of merit in gold from the King of Norway in 1953 for his life’s work as a composer, writer, and minister. His hymns are still sung in Norwegian churches, and there is a small museum at his home farm in Stårheim, a village in Nordfjord.

While workshopping early drafts at Lighthouse, I realized the story was more about Ingrid, a character loosely based on Orheim’s youngest daughter, my grandmother. So I switched the narrative to her point of view, and the novel is very much fictionalized. I changed the character names, except for a couple of first names like Ingrid, and the village is now called Fårheim.

In the novel, Ingrid’s earliest years move away from the idyllic. With her gift of perfect pitch, she tunes Papa’s glassmusic and travels with him and her sister Alvdis to help with his ministry. At the age of seven, Ingrid witnesses a traumatic assault on her eldest sister Kari and must navigate a culture of silence. She struggles to become her own person against her religious pastoral life, family dynamics, and the burden of secrets.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood? 

My dad taught me to read when I was five, and I’ve loved it ever since. He read the Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was seven, and I can credit C.S. Lewis for first sparking my fondness for a well-told story and how it lives in the imagination.

I started writing silly poems that rhymed in the 5th grade when I was bored in class. They were all about nature, animals, and God. In the 6th grade, I won first place for a short story in a Young Writers contest, and when my 9th grade English teacher got excited about a poem I wrote and asked me to read it in front of the class, I think the notion of myself as a writer stuck. My mom marked my essays up in red, and I think that taught me to be particular about grammar and style.

I am the oldest of five kids, and my dad took us camping every summer. While my brothers and sisters played in the river, I sat on a log, reading. When my section in orchestra was supposed to be playing the violin, I often got in trouble with the teacher for being lost in a book.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

I am not a disciplined writer, unless I am working on a project. I can go months without writing, usually because I get overwhelmed with life— including my mostly-recovered but still-lingering health issues from a car accident in 1997, where I sustained a mild TBI (traumatic brain injury)—and trying to make a living as a single mom. As much as I love teaching, I am working on finally leaving it behind. After ten years, I can no longer tolerate the demoralizing, low-income world of being an adjunct instructor at a community college. I am seeking full-time work as a technical writer or editor.

When I’m able to focus on a project, like my novel, I can work every night for hours on end. I’m a night owl and prefer to work into the wee hours, when stimulation from the world is quiet. I also still enjoy writing poems, but only when I am struck with an image and a concrete idea (or when I’m able to work on revising older poems).

4. Who are you reading now?

I am reading Robert McBrearty’s collection of short stories, A Night at the Y. (Full disclosure: this edition was published by my same publisher (Conundrum Press).) Robert was kind enough to give me his book at one of his readings I attended, and the stories really are fantastic—Hemingway-ish but funnier and, I think, more human.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I’ve read it at least five times. The language is stunning, poetic, and I love how she makes transients and outcasts so imaginative and brilliant. I just finished her latest novel, Lila, and I think it is the best of her last three novels, all set in the small town of Gilead. It is also about a transient, a “natural theologian,” Robinson has called her, who marries an elderly minister after a life of homelessness. Lila is very much like Sylvie and Ruth in Housekeeping, and while the language of the narrative is simpler, it is in the believable voice (a very close third person) of a woman with a rough but sacred background. To Robinson, every character, every human, no matter what kind of life they live, is miraculous.

I love all sorts of books, from Rilke’s Duino Elegies to Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire, but Robinson takes the top three for me. I think her second novel, Gilead (which won the Pulitzer Prize), and her third novel, Home, tie for third place after Housekeeping and Lila. Each novel gives a beautiful, tragic, and endearing portrayal of character and place. Robinson gives a sacredness to imagery I have never seen done so well in contemporary literature.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

Well, because of life events, I am working on my platform mostly after-the-fact (my novel released last November), and with job-hunting, I am currently not writing, except for a very angry but funny poem about poor living conditions as an adjunct instructor. Glassmusic is Conundrum Press’s first novel. Before that they had published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. My book received no advance reviews, and marketing my writing is not familiar or easy for me, though answering interview questions is at least a form of writing :)

Small presses (and even the larger publishers) are unable to contribute as much to marketing as is desired, and I do wish I had more time and energy for it. I did enjoy finally creating my own website on WordPress, so that’s something. Right now, my platform is small but slowly growing, and I am looking forward to returning to my writing projects. It’s a challenge for anyone to balance both at once, and I am having to figure out income for this summer.

7. What is a typical day like for you?

I stay up late, grading and preparing for teaching, reading, job-hunting, and marketing my novel. I take a break sometimes and watch a video or browse the internet. Sleep is vital for me, so I tend to sleep in. I take the bus to teach in the afternoon, and on my days off, I ride my bike when the weather is good. I no longer have a car and don’t much enjoy the bus. My son and I sit in the living room in the evening for at least a half-hour and read (“off-the-computer-time”), and we enjoy watching videos together. I miss driving to the mountains with him and his friends and going for hikes.

8. Describe your dream writing space? 

Somewhere like Norway but warmer—the ocean in front of me, mountains behind. A small cottage, farms, cows, horses, a few very nice people not too far away. No loud neighbors, traffic noise, drug smoke, bed bugs, and no failing sewer lines.

We had to get rid of most of our things last summer (putting certain items like photos in storage) due to an infestation the landlord wouldn’t solve, and after staying with my sister in Seattle for a month, I returned to Denver, where my son lives with his dad half-time, and rented a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Friends and students donated furniture. It’s working for now.

My son has the bedroom, and my bed is a pull-out couch with screens around it in the living room. As I am sitting here typing at our kitchen table, I really miss a comfortable desk chair, my sturdy PC, and my books! After our experience last summer, I’m reluctant to buy used furniture from someone I don’t know, in case it is infested. This little Surface laptop is sitting on a pile of borrowed books, to help with the ergonomics.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

I was a new MFA student at the University of Montana, and a visiting professor said (very gruffly) my story had no character development. I left the class in tears. Since then, I’ve developed a much stronger ability to take criticism, and in fact I’ve really appreciated feedback from instructors at Lighthouse and other fellow writers.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Keep yourself open to feedback, but don’t live by it. Write what you love, and more importantly, read great literature. I think reading good writing is more important than a class with the best writing teacher. It’s the only way to develop an ear for good vs. bad or mediocre writing.

Also, you’ve heard this before, but remember to care less about what people think than about being who you are and doing what you love. We can read and write our way to freedom from whatever types of bondage people (like our families) may have imposed on us, but once we are free, writing becomes more of an internal path that leads somewhere, and it becomes more of a joy.

 

Novelist Rebecca SnowRebecca Snow’s debut novel, Glassmusic, was released from Conundrum Press in November 2014. Her poetry has been published in Blue Moon, Pooled Ink, and was added to the Denver Poetry Map. She won first place for narrative nonfiction in the 2007 Writers Studio Contest. Her piece was featured in Progenitor. Snow received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and teaches English at the Community College of Aurora. Originally from Seattle, she lives in Denver, Colorado with her son and enjoys hiking the great Rocky Mountains. Visit her website at rebeccasnow.co.

A Life of Moments

For Hilda

One kernel is felt in a hogshead; one drop of water helps to swell the ocean; a spark of fire helps to give light to the world.  – Hannah More

A Life of Moments - For Hilda

© 2006 Micky**, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

In front of the farmhouse, the forsythia has just begun to push out her yellow bows.  The roads here are sentried by maples just furling out their burgandy tendrils.  Spring is coming on, and I breath it in like oxygen, like quiet fire.

I find myself fascinated, anew, by the return to green here in Virginia.

I have learned to watch for when I am fascinated, angered, or sorrowful about something I see, hear, or experience.  When I feel this spark of emotion, I turn toward myself and watch. . . because here is something I value, something I need to ponder, something I need to understand more.

Like spring.

Like the board saved from the counter of a country store and hung by the new front door of a home.

Like the death of my beautiful friend yesterday.

The way I turn toward these things is in writing, in taking moments of the day to pull the experience into words so I can know it true.  For you, music may come or the rhythm of your shoes on a sidewalk or a rich cup of coffee on a porch at sunset.

I used to think that the extraordinary moments of life required a halt to all other things – a devotion of hours.  But instead, I have come to know that minutes matter more – a text of love, a sigh of sorrow, a pause, an instant to appreciate and remember.

Our culture wants us to believe that only the spectacular matters and even then we must hustle and act as if “life goes on” as it did yesterday, or last year, or even 30 seconds ago.  It does not.

Sometimes, life knocks us flat and all we can find to appreciate is that the earth did not let us fall forever.  Sometimes, we wake to rain and birds outside the window and forsythia just coming to life, and we give thanks for the moments of joy and sorrow in the day.  For the gift of blue flowers to remember and trees sparking red on our drive.

Life is lived in moments.  Hard, broken, beautiful moments.

What is sparking you today? Where do you find yourself wanting to linger?

 

I’ve been spending hours listening to Brene Brown’s amazing book Daring GreatlyAs I imagined, the book is profoundly shaping who I want to be in the world, or rather, it’s helping me remember who I want to be.  I highly recommend it

 

 

Hikes, Farms, and the Wild-Hearted Journey

Hikes, Farms, & Wild-Hearted Journeys

© 2014 born1945, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I only remember going once or twice, my dad and brother in the lead as we climbed through the woods behind our house, up the mountain to the place my brother called – as I have just now remembered – “the meadow.”  We had to cross over other people’s land, but then, I did not know that, did not care.  We were traveling through, and so we went up and over.

On this one journey (two journeys?), Dad bent to point a gentle, wide finger at the trillium tucked quiet in the forest corners. A few fallen logs further, and he lifted the bowed cowl of the jack-in-the-pulpit to reveal the tiny preacher speaking peace to his congregation of chipmunks and chickadees.

I’m not sure why I remembered this walk just now.  Or more, I’m not sure why I have not remembered it before.  But it came to me this morning when I was thinking of the way I want people to feel here at God’s Whisper.  I just kept imagining people walking across the pastures here, tossing out a blanket under the cedar down by the spring, napping quietly on a bench by the herb garden.  And then I thought of this young journey with my dad.

On that trip, I did not think about what I had to do later or how I could make time for this adventure.  I didn’t wonder if it was okay for us to walk across land for which we did not hold an obscure and rather arbitrary paper claim.  No, I followed my dad’s lead into the forest of green and wonder.

I want people – I want ME to feel that freedom and openness on this little patch of paradise.  I want us to feel wild without schedule and ready to lift the wing of a chicken to see the fuzzy head beneath.  I want us to wander the pasture with a sprig of rosemary crushed between our fingers and held to our breath.  I want us to be wild with rest here.

We are just beginning to build this openness here, and it will take a lifetime of work for that wild to take root in this tamed place again.  We have a spring head to restore and one to protect.  We have landscaping to install and a labyrinth to settle into place.  It will take some work to untame this place.

It will take even more for me to unleash my heart from calendars and expectations.  It will take years of listening to that tiny preacher in her little pulpit whispering, “Guard your heart, Andi.” and to know that she means, open it wild and wide.

What experiences of freedom and peace do you most treasure? What helped create the space for those in your life?