Listening for the Voices

It's a cool gray morning on my screened in porch. I have set up my work on the card table and folding chair we keep out here in summer. On the other side of the window a wren family flits in and out and around the birdhouse they are nesting in, maybe twenty feet from me, separated only by a screen. 

When a wren sings its entire small body shakes with the cascade of notes. How it gives itself to its song, in order to announce its presence. Listening today, I hear not only that song but the quieter, less melodic ways that the pair chirps to each other back and forth, around the birdhouse, the feeders. It's a language of wrens. One I don't understand, but most definitely a language.

My fifteen year old son is fascinated by languages. He studies books on linguistics and invents his own systems and vocabularies. This morning, I am aware that the non-human world is also filled with languages we hardly have the comprehension of--crows, wrens, even the trees have ways of communicating. The wild world seems extra vivid, extra dimensional when I remember that all of life is communicating with itself, in so many ways, simultaneously. So many wild wisdoms and ways of knowing. 

As creatives, we attune ourselves to listen for the voices within and without. When we remember that at least some of those voices are non-human, we grow instantly richer in possibility. 

Letting Go of the "Keys"

Over the last year I've been growing this work, central to my thought has been the idea that there are Keys to Creativity: time, space, courage, community and permission. These are the areas every person needs, I contend, to one extent or another, to do their next creative work in the world. And I have shared that insight in my retreats, workshops, and 1:1 sessions. 

One year in, I'm changing my tune. Not that I still don't believe these five things are important--they're crucial. But to call them "keys" makes it sound like you either have them or you don't. And if you don't, by implication, no creative outlet for you. 

The truth is, almost none of us have all of these lined up perfectly...ever. Not for more than a lucky hour or two. By focusing attention on each of them in turn, however, we increase our awareness, and that is the point. Awareness is empowerment. 

So, forget Keys. Call it Five Areas of Awareness that we move into and through. And I think there may be a sixth...I hear a small whisper somewhere that keeps interrupting me... 

On the Idea of a Gentle Workshop

"You're too gentle. Are they learning anything?"

I like to think I am (almost) always open to critique and question about my methods and choices as a teacher, a coach, a writer. This comment from a friend and peer after a workshop experience in Iowa City last summer elicited a good conversation around how a workshop operates, where different writers are at any particular point, where given drafts or ideas are at any particular point, and how group bonding takes place in a necessarily limited time frame. 

With time, I've been able to formulate a deeper and more personal answer to the charge of being "too gentle" and the question of what people "learn" in a workshop with me. Here are my thoughts as they currently take shape, on this cloudy morning:

PROCESS OVER PRODUCT: I am always more interested in helping people deepen their engagement with their own process, than in the given poem or paragraph in front of us. One of my core beliefs: the piece we are working on exists to move us more deeply into our creativity. Our writing (or painting, or dancing, etc etc) teaches us more than the "teacher" at the front of the room. This is what I seek to facilitate. Even those of us who have been writing for decades know, there is always something new to be learned, discovered or uncovered or recovered, and mostly that is a personal adventure, equipped with a few tools we pick up along the way. 

RESIST THE FIX: It is tempting to try to "fix" another writer's words on the page. What is crucial to remember is that whenever a workshop peer suggests a cut, a new word, or a change of any kind, we are putting ourselves in the place of the writer. We can't help it. It's natural. That may or may not do the real writer of the piece any good. In the end, they have to come up with the solution for THEIR work. The suggestion you make to cut line 6 may ultimately tell them something about line 4 or the indefinite word "blue." It is equally helpful (and perhaps more helpful, often) to simply tell the writer where you didn't understand something or what part of the piece seemed weakest to you. Ask questions. They'll come up with the right answers. 

"LEARN" IS A BIG WORD: So, are they learning anything, in a workshop with me? The evaluations I get would suggest own thoughts on the matter? Workshop circles are a safe space in which people learn to: read more deeply and open-heartedly; listen to peers; rethink and reframe their own assumptions and choices; make deep cuts; weave disparate ideas together; find their own voice; stretch their working vocabularies; play more; worry less; take each individual piece less seriously and their own commitment to the work more seriously. And along the way maybe they pick up a few tips on line breaks, forms, punctuation, language choices around voice, rhetorical position, figurative language, submission habits, and all the myriad tools we have at our disposal, as working, growing, writers.

A few places to join me at the workshop table this summer (links in the text):

I'll be co-teaching with my mother, children's book author Jacqueline Briggs Martin this  summer in Iowa city.

I'll be participating in an online sampler series Loft.

I'll be running an online six-week workshop in poetry and short form for beginning/intermediate writers starting June 5.

And I'm always available to writers who want to work 1:1 to deepen their practice, bust through blocks, shape their next ideas or books. 

Summer is a perfect time to dive in to the next adventure, creatively. I hope to see you soon! 

The Shadows of This Day

What a complicated day this is. What a complicated word and idea "mother" is--in as many directions as there are humans on this planet.

I have an amazing mother whom I celebrate on a regular basis. I'm lucky to have a close relationship to this woman who has been guide and model for me for decades. In fact, we team teach every summer and what a joy that is to me.

This post is not about her.

This post is about something more gritty. It's about my own resistance to the comfortable and comforting idea that mother=nurturer, even as I support those of you for whom this makes emotional and psychological and social sense and pattern of your experiences.

For me, my own journey as "mother" is about all the times I did not shake the baby did not shake the baby did not shake the baby.

And the time I did.

It's about the changes my body went through with two pregnancies and one probable miscarriage there in the middle (too early to tell, but a woman knows). It's about the fact that cells with the DNA of other people will live in my body for the rest of my life.

It's about not being able to feed my own babies. And how that becomes a permanent part of my own understanding of myself.

It's the soup of terror and rage and broken honesty, wrong or right words, guilt and frustration, joy and celebration, laughter and delight and wonder that every year brings. And how much of that remains interior, internal. "Mary kept these things in her heart and pondered" is the truest sentence of the Bible for me.

"Mother" is inevitable wounding, and the capacity to get up the next day and try again.

What I celebrate is how sharing our stories and personal gnosis helps complicate the too easily and often sentimentalized idea of "mother." Women are whole people. Women have complicated internal lives. Some women are mothers. All women have mothers, even if that figure is an absence. Hallmark and the patriarchy could convince you otherwise, if you let them.

Our planet needs nurturers. We need to evolve as a society so that we truly see and honor the nurturers and the work they do. This day is not only about that, however. There are shadows wherever there is light. Of all days, a day about mothers can be a day to face the shadows.

Daring To Move Towards Dream

This post could start as so many slick marketing spiels do: "One year ago, I gave up everything and followed my dreams, and I haven't looked back since!! Now I'm sharing my secrets with you!" 

I hate that kind of language.

So let's say it differently. Say it true: over the past year, I've dared to be guided by my dreams, by intuition, by the sense that I had a work to do in the world that wasn't yet fully realized and if only I listened deeply enough, I could make it come about. Supported by many, I have created, shaped, re-shaped and focused that work into a business. One year in, I'm still in the seedling stages, learning, growing, stretching every day. And I have never loved my life more. 

I know I'm not the only one who dreams of having her own business, working at something she loves, in a life that provides for flexibility and flow. This summer, I'm offering a six week Mastermind circle to help others take the next step forward. Whether you know exactly what you want to do and just need the accountability and encouragement, or whether you only know "I want to work for myself," this circle is for you.

With the help and support of many people, I've done it. Am doing it. You can too. It starts with reaching out and taking that first step.

What is a mastermind? There are an increasing number of definitions. The women at Purple Ink Cafe generously shared their version with me, and I like it better than others I've encountered. Imagine a wagon wheel. The hub at the center of the wheel is the subject of the group (in this case, starting a business or leveling up). The spokes are the participants. The rim is the facilitator, who creates the container and holds the space. In a mastermind, all the participants together create a deep reservoir of information, experience, wisdom and resources. We help each other. 

For more information and to register for Odonata's Monday L(a)unch Mastermind circle, click here. 


Opening the Garden

This year for the first time I have a small plot in a community garden that is a fifteen minute walk from my house. My family is blessed with a large yard of our own, but it's too shady to grow the tomatoes, basil, zinnias my born-and-bred Midwestern sensibilities dream of all winter. 

Just as important to me this spring, when I signed up for the space, was the need for community. To grow things with others. And last Saturday I got to meet many members of this new community for the first time, as we opened the gardens by stringing the plots, distributing hay bales and compost to all, clearing brush and taking the occasional break by the picnic tables for donuts, coffee and orange juice. People of all generations and all levels of experience mingled and worked together in good cheer, with the low buzz of excitement that pervades the start of any new season. 

I also read Chellis Glendinning's book, Off the Map, this weekend. This lyrical, explosive prose narrative explores the idea of Empire and how it pervades every level of our society--from our satellite and aerial view ideas of mapping to our intimate familial relationships. It's one of those books that has the potential to re-shape your life. For people who can handle graphic descriptions of abuse (she shares her own stories with relentless courage), I urge you to read this book. 

I believe Empire also shapes our relationship to our own imaginations--to our understanding even of what imagination is--and the stories we shape for ourselves. It's part of my work at Odonata to help formulate other ways, other paths, other patterns. And I'll be doing that while I dig in the dirt, plant flowers and parsley and kale, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, and the wisdom and experience of the gardeners around me.

I'm grateful for the human and non-human community that support me as I slowly build a relationship to this new little patch of earth, this new little patch of work, I have the privilege to tend.

Remind me of all this, when the mosquitoes come out and the weeds start to show up.  

Holding Space for Creativity

Recently I came across this beautiful article by Heather Plett on holding space, what it means, and how to do it well. As she says, "When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."

Friday mornings I hold space for creativity to emerge and I encourage anyone to join me, in person or mentally. Usually I go to a local coffee house, but not every week allows that. Today, for instance, I'm working from home due to family complications. That's okay: the candle is lit, the journal is open. There's a fresh pot of coffee coming. 

Some Fridays are busier than others. Even if all you find time for this morning is five minutes at your desk, doodling something that makes you smile, that might be enough for today. No judgment, no worries about whether it's "good enough" or "real art." Just make something that makes you smile. Maybe even share it with someone. 


The Gift of Time

Yesterday I took an entire day away from work. I met with a friend. I sat in the sun. I read. And I slept eleven hours last night and woke feeling truly rested, restored, and closer to whole.

This is as rare for me as most of you--I don't often get a whole day away. But even an hour (as I wrote in my last entry) can feel juicy and nurturing if we can clear our minds, leave our to-do lists and mental checklists behind, and truly experience an open-ended span of time.

Practicing some form of meditation, relaxation, visualization can be key to helping us ready ourselves to approach and enter that place of calm. For many of us, practicing a form of creativity eventually becomes a meditative practice in itself.

Practice is a key word: be patient with yourself. If you are just recovering your creative spirit, or if you find yourself immersed in a particularly busy period, even five minutes of journaling, doodling, dancing or singing is enough. 

When the Next Step Forward is Pause

Yesterday I had a big fat juicy hour with nothing scheduled. I sat in my big red basket chair, open notebook on my lap with a favorite pen. Outside the rain swept through in spurts. When I needed a break I resisted the urge to go online. Instead, I made more coffee, put clothes in the dryer, and continued to allow my mind to wander. Over and through the questions I've been asking. Searching for answers. Searching for What Comes Next. 

And I didn't find answers. What I found instead was the permission I needed to not have answers yet. To "not know" and to be comfortable with that.

As I re-launch this blog, I want it to focus on the little moments, the small truths we need to keep repeating to each other. This seems like a good moment to start with. Sometimes we won't have the answers, and just because we seek them doesn't mean they'll come easily or readily. And that's okay too. It might not be comfortable, but it is okay. 

And that, as it happens, turns out to be my next small step. Just the action of writing this here, and sharing it with you.