Archive | February, 2012

Ready, Steady, Write # 5

photograph by India Thain 2012

 

Ready? Steady? Choose one & write…

a. A caption for this image (seriously ONE line only – it’s possible!)
b. A small story
c. A poemTake a few minutes and write something.
just
a
few
minutes

Blow our minds… I’ll catch your bubbles!
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Finding Fortune

My father has been dead for many years, but if I were to glance up and find him sitting on my couch, legs propped on my coffee table, swearing at a Lakers game, I would not be shocked.

He might be physically absent from my world, but he still lives with me, like all the other members of my family.  He occupies a space within.  A space reserved just for him.  And from that space he looks at me with love.  Brings me a glass of water in the middle of the night.  Marvels at the humour and the height of the grandson he never met. Smiles at the wisdom of the granddaughter who keeps a photograph of him on her desk. And tells me, in that way he had of telling me, all the words he still wants me to hear.

His voice is clear. Deep. A Philly drawl sprinkled with twenty years in London. He says things like:
“Did you get a load of that kid?” (usually referring to a forty-five year old man)
“The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day – what more could I want?” (this after he left London)
“Jesus Christ!” ( loudly under his breath, not worshipping, but condemning any unsuspecting fellow diner who dared sneeze too close to him in a restaurant).

And the one that stays with me the most, like the surprising slip of a fortune that you carry home from dinner in your pocket and tape optimistically to your mirror, “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best…”

I loved those words.  I still do.

My father repeated those words when I was forced to wear an embarrassing patch over the left lens of my glasses.  When I didn’t get elected for middle school student body president (and he had designed all of the campaign posters). When the short waiter with the limited vocabulary stamped on my heart.  When I was rejected from my first choice university. He didn’t live long beyond my university years, but his words continue to resonate.

For him that tenant was tried and true. His greatest professional failure led him to escape across the Atlantic, where he reinvented himself, fell in love with my mother, and had the family he never imagined he would at the age of fifty – the best.

When a promising opportunity I felt certain would materialise, disintegrated painfully at the end of last year, my father’s words floated into my head.  There he was, comfortable on my couch, chin propped on his hand, reassuring me.  Life doesn’t always take you where you want it to.  Destinies have a way of swerving and revealing views you never imagined encountering.  Stay open.  Stay receptive.  “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best, kid”.  I know those words inevitably won’t always ring true; life is infinitely complicated and often brutal. But I’m still listening. Still hopeful. I still want to believe for all of us that shadows can shape shift, letting in light where you least expect it.

Do my father’s words hold any meaning for you?

What is written on your crumpled fortune cooke slips?  Whose words stay with you when you really need to hear them, and how have they reverberated in your life?

Be brave and share your stories – they are the fragments that make you whole. Write down whatever arrives and welcome in the person who passed them on.

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Golden Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an extraordinary woman who paints, writes and guides others in their writing practice.  When I was twenty, I discovered her book “Writing Down the Bones” and devoured it.  The experience was delectable.  Her pages were full of wisdom, ideas and permission. While enticing me to write down the bones, she crawled under my skin.  Natalie has written many wonderful books since then, but it was that book that remained with me for years, until I was lucky enough to participate in one of her workshops in Taos, New Mexico in 2010.

The workshop consisted of yoga sessions, writing sessions and enforced silences.  I say ‘enforced’ because while I crave it often, silence does not always come easily to me.  I fill up my space with sound. I love my music. I talk to Lilly (my dog). I bore my husband with daily minutia. I like to chit chat on the phone. I ask my kids too many questions when I pick them up from school. I even talk to myself. All that commotion before anyone else has managed to join the bonanza.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘Silence is Golden’, meaning precious. Sought after. Seductive. Valuable. I’m not sure I fully understood quite how golden silence can be until Natalie Goldberg forced it upon me. Gently. With understanding. She encouraged us to ‘sit’ in silence for luxurious lengths of time.  She instructed us to eat in silence, even if we were feasting next to our best friend (which I was). Instead of filling up the air with words, my tastes buds had a conversation with my food. It was a delightful exchange. She suggested that we walk slowly around the world in silence, and pay close attention to  everything we encountered along the way. And I did.

But silence, like most things shiny, has a darker side. It can be lonely. Frightening. Silence can leave you feeling disconnected. Caught on a broken treadmill endlessly running over unproductive thoughts.  That sort of silence is ‘noisy’.  Tarnished.  The golden glow long since forgotten.

Our task, as writers, as human beings, as learners, is to pay attention to both states. Pay attention to when life gets too fast, too loud. Pay attention to the times we could benefit from pressing mute in order to listen to our breath and not our voices.  Equally, pay attention to when we become locked. Stifled. In need of our volume being turned up.  In need of being heard. Too many of us operate on extremes, missing opportunities to create a more harmonious balance.

I have plenty of lasting memories from that week in Taos, but there is one that stands out from the rest. I was walking back to my bedroom on the first deliciously dark night. Somewhere over Taos mountain there was an electrical storm.  The entire landscape was alive with light — frenetic, neon bolts cracking into the atmosphere, scratching silver zig zags through the blackness. Natalie was walking next to me. Silent. I assumed she would remain wrapped in the meditative moment.  It seemed possible to me that she was the kind of women who could slow walk calmly through Mardi Gras. But then she surprised me, like the best writers do.  She glanced up and caught sight of the spectacular sideshow, and in her broad New York accent, she sliced through the silence with a gloriously, life affirming query.

“What the FUCK is that?” 

I remember smiling. It was that line that leaps out at you from the page of a book when you’re quietly reading at midnight.  It catapults off the page and cartwheels around your brain, reminding you why you love to read. Reminding you why the author is so brilliant.

Golden Goldberg.

And now to you! What is your relationship to silence? Do you want more of it or less? Do you need silence to work or are you more productive with noise around you? Do you have ‘loud’ memories from your childhood or ‘quiet’ ones? Or both?
I won’t talk for a little while… I’ll sit and wait for your words to arrive. I’m ready to listen…

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Once Bitten

Photograph by Chloe Green 2012

My dog, Lilly, was bitten by another dog this week.

Ouch.

The vet stapled her wound shut, and if that wasn’t dismal enough, condemned her to wear ‘the cone of shame’ for ten days. Like any self respecting animal, Lilly was desperate to lick her wound. She moped around the house forlornly. She whimpered. She kept me up for two nights sitting by the edge of my bed staring at me, determined that I would be the guest of honour at her pity party. It worked. It’s ridiculously hard to resist those beautiful brown eyes, even at 3am. The following day I gave in and removed her cone, vowing to watch her vigilantly to prevent her inflicting any further damage. Of course I got distracted.  I have a university degree in getting distracted (with distinction). After a twenty minute phone call, I returned to find Lilly gleefully licking her laceration. She wagged her tail triumphantly, having managed to pull out the staples and open the wound.  Lilly and I spent another hour at the vet.

She was hurt all over again.

We do that don’t we? We feel attacked. Bitten. Injured. Disappointed. And we hold on. Sometimes we find it almost impossible to not keep returning to our wound and reopening it, repeatedly.

I completed a novel last year, succeeded in securing an agent, and like thousands of others who submit full of optimism and sparkle, my book was rejected. Many times.  I spent months, not unlike Lilly, feeling sorry for myself and gouging at my wound. I longed for the life I was leading in the run up to the submission, full of promise and potential. I attempted to begin another novel, but without the validation I had been seeking, my enthusiasm for my craft wobbled and wavered. Eventually, a scab began to form and with the scab new ideas and resolve slowly began to generate. I decided to write about my experience of rejection, as a means of catharsis, but also as a way of fielding the constant questioning from everyone I knew.

Them: “So,what’s happening with your book?”
Me: “Ummmm….”

I sent my ode to rejection to a group of family and friends and it spread from there. The encouragement and support I received in return was awesome. The rally around me was palpable. My willingness to lay myself bare seemed to inspire people.

Suddenly it was clear to me.

I had been contemplating the idea of Write To Be You for some time, but had been too focused on the novel to initiate motion. I wanted to create a community that drew together my psychotherapy training and my writing background. I wanted to design a space for myself and others that didn’t rely purely on external approval. I imagined a forum where I could encourage others to write to make connection to themselves, rather than to please someone else. A bright, luminous lightbulb appeared above my head and Write To Be You Workshopsand blog were born.The ethos: write from your heart and your words will find a pulse. 

My intention, restated, is:

To offer a safe, empathic environment where we can contemplate wounds, reveal scabs and scars, and support one another in not constantly reopening the cuts and watching them bleed. Write To Be You is a call to creative action.  A wish that everyone reading will spend some time reflecting on the posts and writing, even if it is just for a few minutes or a few lines.  I’m showing up here every Monday and every Thursday with an invitation for you to write and to share. All your stories, responses and thoughts are read by me and published in the comments section, where we can weave together common threads, as well as delight in our differences.

If you choose to write, even for just ten minutes, twice a week, in a matter of months you will have a lively notebook. I’m also regularly challenging you to a Ready, Steady, Write… an opportunity to launch your imagination or your thoughts from an image and watch your words as they fly.

So please join Lilly (who is on the mend) and me in this new phase of promise and potential. We both may have been once bitten, but we’ve come to understand, there is little to be gained from being twice shy.

If you’re interested in the piece I originally wrote “It’s good, but…” Reflections on Rejection, it has been published on Single Minded Women. Click here to read.

And now to my readers – what has bitten you and how have you reacted? Have you been picking at a wound or finding it hard to move away from shame? What advice or stories do you have for other readers who are grappling with rejection?  Your responses are welcomed here always…. ten minutes, ten lines… just write…

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Ready, Steady, Write # 4

Photograph by Leo Gundle 2012

Tell us a story…
As few or as many lines as you choose
You have permission to go anywhere with this
Use the image as a launch pad
Share your findings
10, 9, 8, 7, 6 (you know the rest)
BLAST OFF!
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In Need of a Get Together

I remember when I first heard the term ‘inner child’, I pictured a pouting toddler, curled forward, arms hugging her knees. She was crouched somewhere deep inside of me, behind my ribs, peeking through the gaps like they were slatted window blinds.  I felt unnerved by her presence.  Did she need a snack?  A cuddle? Someone to play with?  It was hard enough meeting the needs of my own two children and suddenly I had a third small person to worry about.  One who didn’t speak much but had the whole of my history wrapped quietly around her tongue.

When I was training to be a therapist we were encouraged to have a dialogue with our inner child. Good luck.  Mine was uncooperative. She hid her face. Gazed at me with pleading eyes. Begged me silently to put her to bed and concentrate instead on being the ‘outer grown-up’ I was supposed to be. I soon realized she wasn’t alone in there. She was hanging out with my ‘inner control freak’, my ‘inner debbie downer’, my ‘inner hopeless romantic’, my ‘inner moody adolescent’ and my ‘inner catastrophist’. They were all having a fine old time.

Trying to get the attention of my tenants was a bit like attempting to recite poetry at rave. My inner child might have been monosyllabic, but the rest of them were a raucous crowd – constantly jostling to be heard.

We all have busy interiors. Different psychological paradigms assign this phenomenon varying labels  (ego states and sub personalities to name a few). Whatever you wish to call them, our chaotic internal get togethers are often a result of neglected aspects of ourselves battling for the limelight.

Start to listen to the voices. Establish firm guidelines. I learnt not to let Debbie Downer and Hopeless Romantic meet for breakfast on Valentines Day, no matter how much they petitioned – it was never pretty. Catastrophist was banned from reading the newspapers for a little while and Control Freak was surprisingly calm when I instructed her to keep typing and stop tidying. I started dragging Adolescent to gigs with me and she stopped sulking about all the endless Saturday nights spent watching ‘The Love Boat’. I bought Child the dog she had been longing for, and we took a daily walk through the wooded trees in the park. Gradually she began to chat. She whispered a few secrets to me about connecting with my own children as well; secrets I had very nearly forgotten.

Ignoring the needy parts of ourselves will always have a consequence. Start tuning in to the voices in your head. Use your writing to help you hear what they have to say. Take a roll call. Write a dialogue between them all – is it a comical farce or a tension fuelled drama? Notice who’s mssing. Is there an aspect of yourself that you need to make more space for?  Write them an entrance.

Share your findings!  Post snippets of your dialogue in the comments section or simply let me know your thoughts about your own internal meet ups.  Be playful – create an imaginary Facebook page for your various aspects or write about what they might Tweet to each other.  Don’t over think this.  Just write… and report back!

 

PS. Hopeless Romantic would like to wish you a “Very Happy Valentines Day!”
PPS. Debbie Downer and her new friend Sarcastic Susan would like to add (rolling their eyes in unison) “Whatever!”

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A Splash of Our Own

Photograph by India Thain, 2011
The first Write To Be You Workshop of 2012 has begun.
I would like to thank those who showed up and jumped. With a splash. Breaking through the surface. Making an impact. Moving the water with their presence. A declaration. I am here. I have arrived. Somewhere I need to be. I’ve entered.
IN

Taking that first step towards the unknown can be hell of hard. Our bodies stiffen. Stress chemicals begin crazy dance spirals in our brains. Our pulse accelerates. We feel the resistance like a cold jagged slab. It hurts to be so tender. So full of jangled nerves. But our tendency to tenderness is precious. Treasure it. Anxiety and exhilaration are not so distant cousins.They operate on the same spectrum and given the chance, they can learn to negotiate; one unexpectedly, graciously, opening the door for the other, creating an equilibrium rather than a dictatorship. Both are reminders that we are alive, full of anticipation, wanting and waiting to make a splash of our own.

Ready to write?
Ready to write!

Option one: Tell us a story about this image.
Option two: Describe an anxiety or apprehension that you find yourself scraping against.
Option three: Share a time when you broke through anxiety and met exhilaration on the other side.

Splash into the comments – your boldness will encourage others to jump in after you…

Feeling lighter hearted? Visit  Goldilocks and the Three Apples and update your own fairytale. Keep the words coming!

 

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Goldilocks and the Three Apples

Goldilocks bolted down her block, her heart beating rapidly.  She was on her way to the mall with a fist full of crumpled money and a head full of chocolate brown Ugg Boots.  So what if her mother was expecting her to return home with five rotisserie chickens for her granny’s book club?  She had alternate plans and a vast imagination. She’d simply explain to her mother that a lone dark wolf, also apparently hosting a book club that afternoon, had unexpectedly apprehended her, grabbing the chickens and fleeing with such speed that he’d flown right out of his boots.

Chocolate brown UGG boots to be precise.  Delicious!

Talking of, she was a little hungry. She’d rushed out this morning neglecting to eat breakfast.  Not surprisingly, Golidilocks skidded to a cartoon halt as she passed a neighbour’s house and was arrested by a comforting, oaty smell wafting from under their front door.  Her mother liked to call this ‘getting distracted’ but Goldiocks preferred to think of it as ‘staying curious’.

She knew the house belonged to The Bears.  She had often seen them sitting in their minivan programming their sat nav.

Goldilocks decided to stop for a moment. Just a wee moment. Her stomach was leading the way. She pressed her nose to the window mesmerised. All three Bears were at the breakfast table.  Daddy Bear on his MacBook Air, Mummy Bear on her iPad and Baby Bear on his iPod Touch.

They were so engrossed, they didn’t notice Goldilocks in the window, her face like a flattened pancake.
They were so engrossed, they had left three untouched, tasty, nourishing bowls of porridge growing lonely and cold in front of them.
They were so engrossed, that they paid no attention when Goldilocks ever so quietly opened the front door and silently slid into the house and under the table.

First, she coiled her arm up like a snake and snuck a smidgen of porridge from Daddy Bear’s bowl  (he was scrolling through pictures on Facebook and feeling mildly envious of Larry’s new young wife.)

Goldilocks spat it out! Yuck!  There was nothing that irked her more than lukewarm, lumpy porridge!

She scooched over to Mummy Bear to try her luck.  Mummy Bear was busy tweeting a picture of her porridge to her 9,781 followers.

Goldilocks gagged. Another mouthful of disgusting tepid goo.

Lastly, Goldilocks crawled towards Baby Bear, who was playing Angry Birds and looking just as furious.  She reached up her hand and dipped in the spoon.  When the porridge arrived on her tongue – it was perfect.  Just the right temperature.  Creamy and delicious.  She rescued the bowl and gobbled the remains, savouring the milky warmth.

When Goldilocks finished, she tugged at Baby Bear’s shoelace. Perhaps the Wolf with the chicken fetish and the chocolate brown Uggs could wait for another hour or so? Baby Bear slammed down his iPod and grunted, but when he saw Goldilocks under the table clutching the empty bowl, he smiled mischievously. At last, a real person to play with who didn’t have an annoying squawk and a constantly furrowed brow. He hadn’t wanted to eat his porridge anyway.  The only thing he’d asked for that morning was – an Apple.

THE END

The moral of this story? Keep your imagination limber. Stay Curious.  Seek out human connection.  And most importantly – DON’T LET YOUR PORRIDGE GROW COLD AND LUMPY!

Writing Prompt for today: Recreate a mini fairytale.  Be adventurous – let the story lead you. And /or write about curiosity.  Do you have enough of it?  Are you curious about the world around you?  Other people?  What would you like to find out more about? Curiosity fuels both our writing and our sense of self.

I’m loving your stories and responses in the comments section, and I’ve no doubt that each one spurs on the next.  Keep them coming! Everything you send is received with gratitude and interest.

 

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Ready, Steady, Write # 3

We hold worlds of words in our hands, hearts and heads.
Tell me a story about this image.
Allow it to spark, not dictate.
If you don’t feel like writing, WRITE ANYWAY.
If you can’t give it ten minutes, give it ten lines.
Make the time for ten lines.
I invite at least TEN people to share their TEN lines.
It’s a gift to yourself, me, and all reading, to see how each of us crafts something Unique
From the same raw material.
Take a few deep breaths.
On your marks, get set…
GO!
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