Tag Archive for 'writing'

10 random and possibly funny reflections from my hedgebrook retreat

1. my favorite is when i am being all brave and going along in nature and then something scares me. the moment when i jump out of my skin and then have to crawl back in and self-soothe, every time, i find quite humorous. like:

mood: brave
fact: a sound happens in the woods
reaction: jump directly and painfully into a tree, twisting around slow motion matrix style to confront the monstrous face of evil
actual fact: a tiny bird hops again and becomes visible to me. i giggle self-consciously, then it flies away.

mood: little red riding hood in the snow
fact: an invisible wolf knocks me down and nearly swallows my head before i can scream, ‘viva la revolucion!’
reaction: set hypothermia timer in my head and decide which parts of my body can be self-sustenance.
literal fact: i tripped and fell in snow and my sister saw it and helped me. (throwback self-shame)

mood: harriet tubman heading north
fact: a sound happens in the woods shortly after i see a mysterious poop on the path
reaction: immediate django on all nearby leaves that might be hiding coyote
tangible fact: a chipmunk darts across the path, totally not scared of me at all in spite of my size and reasoning advantages.

mood: jane goodall on an evening walk
fact: spider attacks me, trying to get me to drop my flashlight
reaction: ‘i’m melting!!!! no but seriously, where is my pocket knife to x cut my face when it bites me, and where is an australian to suck the venom out? foiled!!! give my fancy shoes to my nibblings, it’s over!!!’
truthy fact: spider is minding it’s business in tree. and actually spider yawns in my face.

2. i got high (whidbey island dispensary right by goose market, no card needed!) and went for a walk in the woods. it was outstanding. everything in there had something to say and it felt personally wonderful to me, the way the light pierced the trees, the pine needle carpet. i felt far away from the world, and safe, even with all the wildness, or perhaps, finally, because of it.

3. janet mock stayed in this guesthouse before me. and gloria steinem, alice walker, naomi shahib nye, ursula le guin. no pressure.

4. a bird flew into the window over my desk today. i’d heard the sound before but never up close enough to realize what it was. i ran outside and there was the stunned bird, shaking it’s head as if trying to get it’s tiny brain back into a pinball slot. i talked to it soothingly until i had an internal moment of realizing that the gigantic monster i am to this bird might not be soothing no matter how much i coo. then i looked around and saw another dead bird.

reaction: run away screaming.

i returned and saw that actually all around my guesthouse is a little nature graveyard. there are other dead birds, mice-rats and creatures under the brush. i thought, life really is death. i came back with a busted up seed cracker for the bird and tossed it his way. when i returned later he was gone. i then considered this whole diversion research, because i do actually need to understand the sights and smells of decomposition for my novel. thanks collaborator bird, i hope you are alive.

5. there is a mood to what i am writing: it is grief stricken and terrified. as i write it i am comforting myself as i do immediately after a death or crisis – cookies, ice cream, butter on bread. even biting my nails. consuming the world. i feel a little guilt around this until i remember what i am writing about, what place i am taking myself to every day, who i’m spending my days with: ghosts of beloved people and places. i am having a crisis response in the midst of being immensely well nourished, well rested and cared for.

i should write a book about a woman on retreat the next time i go on retreat, to reap the full benefits.

6. dreamt i had a conversation with drake. about serena. it went like this:

me: i am really pleased with the direction you’re moving in.

drake: i’m sayin! she’s fantastic. she makes me laugh.

me: she’s the best.

drake: yeah and she is the best at something that takes actual skill. not charm. i’m the best at charm. but she is the best at something that requires physical, emotional and mental superiority. woe on fleek times legend.

me: there is justice in this world, that you see that. and she’s gorgeous.

drake: unbelievable. like unbelievable. AND farrakhan dissed her publicly for her outfits!

at this point we both do that thing where you spread your hands and shrug like, ‘does it get any better’?

me: don’t mess it up. be worth her attention.

drake nods seriously.

7. i wrote a novel. i wrote a fucking novel. i drafted it during nanowrimo last year, and then worked it over, and over, and over…such that now i could imagine other people reading it for feedback. there are sections of it i understand. i did that. late blooming novelist, new title.

8. it is hard to color outside the lines and communicate. it is hard to be inside of a particular and beloved box, to have become something else while inside the box, then to be reaching out with words that only transmit by moonlight. when someone says, ‘what are you doing?’…i am writing, i mean, a story, i am a sorceress, it’s about magic and grief, it’s about america, it’s 713,000 metaphors for gentrification. and you?

9. my world is so small. everyone i meet is basically my first cousin by love, art or movement. thus my love stories have no endings, and every world has to be infinite.

10. everyone please read ursula le guin’sthe birthday of the world, from the foreword to the last word. we might need a reading group on the story ‘paradises lost’.

so all that to say: all women, do hedgebrook at least once in your life.

how to have a creation retreat (advance) any time, any place

i am on a reading/writing retreat/advance in mexico, and it is so precious and delicious. i have been reflecting on what makes it so good, and realizing that the majority of elements are ones i conjure up to advance my creative work any time, any place.

the word retreat is familiar, but really it’s an advance – taking the time to move forward intentionally in my life’s work.

so, partially to remind myself, partially to spark creative time for you, here goes.

1) time.

set aside time to get lost in the work. this might be an hour, a day, three weeks, a couple of months. obviously more time is better, though some people thrive in the small window. you know what you need. but don’t postpone until you get the biggest chunk of time. think of every moment as time you are intentionally feeding your creativity. when you are hungry, you don’t say, ‘well this meal isn’t big enough, better wait for the feast’. you nourish yourself (on local grassfed organic gluten free sugar free foods, but if that’s not there, pizza or goat curry also works, feel me?). small also opens the door to large. when you use an hour well, your system starts rearranging your circumstances, wanting more.

creating with others may work well for you, again, know thyself. be wary of work dates, be honest about who you can actually create next to or with. don’t cocrastinate, it will only grow resentment in all directions.

say no during this time, to plans, lunch dates, phone calls. scheduled things with others can disrupt the flow. tell beloveds you will see them on the other side. let people root for your creator self by giving you time.

the exception to this is if toni morrison, or toshi reagon, or kiese laymon, or beyonce, or bjork calls you to go out and talk about creating things. otherwise, it can wait.

time is the first way to nourish your creativity.

2) disconnect.

the whole internet with it’s crises and food porn and subtweets and azealia banks will be there when you’ve finished creating something. the texts and emails are generally not as urgent as they seem – be as responsive to your creativity as you are to the projected world.

airplane mode is a gift from the gods-of-getting-your-life-together. disconnecting will deepen your sleep, sharpen your awareness of the actual place and moment you are in, and give your mind a little room from the words of others to actually hear yourself. turn the outer world back on only after you have completed something.

it’s not even disconnecting really, it’s giving yourself the space to connect to your creative self. prioritize that connection which buzzfeed cannot capture.

3) input.

make a list of all of the artists, writers, musicians and other creators who inspire you, who are better than you, who are part of your field. ask for recommendations from people who are familiar with your work. spend part of your time inhaling, devouring, analysing, being humbled by and filling up on the work of other artists.

i like to juxtapose creative things, listening to jay-z while reading toni cade bambara. but do it how you like. you might need to take things in on their own. but take in the intentional arts of your possible peers.

don’t only take in art that is in your field either. poetry and essays are essential ingredients of great fiction. the natural world can teach you how to describe love. genius teaches in many ways, be open to unexpected inspiration.

4) options. give yourself multiple outlets through which your creations can flow.

i am here primarily to write, but i have a sketchbook, a small notebook for ideas, a journal for personal reflection and clearing, magazines to collage, a recording app if songs come, and the device i am writing on now for actual story writing and editing.

even if you just have a sketchbook and a journal, you’ve widened the options. stories can come as sketches, charts, character drawings, jumbles of many faces, photography, poetry, freedom songs. the main thing is to have a way to grab it when the genius comes.

5) supplies.

i think of prepping for a creation advance like prepping for a sport. i need water! i need food that is quick to prepare and meets the nutritional needs of my body. i love to cook beautiful meals for myself, basic delicious stuff i can prepare on the front end to heat and eat – brown rice stir fry, quinoa and veggies, frittata, etc.

give yourself as few escapes as possible – needing to go get food can be a procrastination move.

i also need all the creation options mentioned in point 4. chargers, pens, paper, ritual items (see 6). have it all ready to go on the front end.

the inputs – a stack of books, real ones and kindle downloads. also amazing playlists that make you want to put out.

and i think we all need what i think of as the valve, or pleasure, supplies – i want my body to feel good throughout the work. wine, whiskey, weed, sex toys – ways to celebrate a good day’s work. bookend the retreat/advance with body treats, have a massage booked, or go to a sauna. the body is the creative tool, treat it well.

6) ritual.

creating is the work of god(s), so set the sacred space. i create an altar for my work, pull tarot cards about what i should be open to, and start my writing days with journaling, yoga, meditation and somatic practices. i brush my teeth, i like to smell good for my creativity.

i also tidy the space where i am going to create – dishes, bed made. basic stuff, as cleaning can become a procrastination too. but clear space leaves more room for the new things.

your ritual might be coffee, a prayer, a long run, a mantra (i think i can, i dream i do, i breathe brilliance) or sitting mindfully in your studio. it can change as you go too, it’s the spirit of ritualizing your creative life that matters. creating a practice ground, where anything can happen.

mind body earth and spirit create, it’s not just your brain and fingers. i am thrilled here to be able to swim in the ocean each day, read in the sun, write in my hammock. i know that i write more under these conditions, so i have started keeping a fund for this purpose, going someplace warm, near the ocean, in the winter. but this is rare, and i don’t want my creating to be rare. at home i put on music, turn the heat up so i can wear tropical attire, light incense, and do the ritual, noticing my outer and inner worlds before i drop in.

7) spark.

everything up until now is setting the conditions. this is the fire pit, the dry ready wood, the abundant kindling, the paper, the air, the longing for warmth. now the spark might come at any time.

i often ritual, journal, read, draw, and then the spark comes, but sometimes it comes as i am drifting to sleep, or first thing when i wake up, or as i am biking past a tree. sometimes one spark will come while i am pursuing another – good problems!

the spark receives the highest honor, everything else is secondary. i stop whatever i am doing – reading, cooking, biking, dreaming – to blow on the spark, cultivate it, welcome it.

that spark is why we are here.

still i write (somewhere between mantra and ode)

i worked on a sci-fi story throughout the day today. it was incredible, fun feverish writing. i woke up with a new piece of a story i’ve been working all summer that wanted to be told, needed to be written down. it was a gift.

i was hanging with a sick niece who wanted to be in my lap even though the words were coming. at one point i was writing with one hand while feeding her yogurt. later i was writing on my phone while carrying her around for the pre-naptime bounce. i started hearing the maya angelou poem still i rise, but with the words ‘still i write’. it made me smile thinking about a remix of that poem, but about the persistence of writing. i’m playing with it, here’s what i have so far:

I may only write my history
colored with all my favorite lies,
I may scratch my name in rocks and dirt
Each day, in dust, I’ll write.

Does my persistence impress you
as you procrastinate in your room
while I write like I’ve got novels
shelving the red walls of my womb?

By the light of moons and suns,
to the sound of my own sighs,
With sparks of legend catching light,
Still I write.

Don’t I want this deadline met,
with sore fingers, tired eyes?
Not quelled by the whimpering toddler
In my lap with bambi eyes.

In the quiet hum of wifi free plane rides
I write
under covers in shared movement conference hotel rooms
I write
I’m a diva author, unsatisfied
gnashing and rending til my thoughts clarify
Leaving behind writer’s blocks of terror and fear
I write
if no one ever reads me, if no one hears
I write
sharing the gifts that my ancestors give,
Words are my air, to write is to live.
I write
I write
I write.

(thank you to ancestor Maya for the structure and rhythm)

i’m writing

i’m writing, i’m writing.

i have been writing a little less for this blog and writing more science and speculative fiction lately, and it’s exciting. i do want to develop this into a space where i can share new fiction and poetry as regularly as blog posts.

i’m writing. ideas come into my head fully formed, characters crawl out of the shadows with attitudes and understandings that seem greater than and/or counter to my own little grasp of the world.

i’m writing.

i hired a writing coach, a science fiction writer i respect. she expects 20 pages from me a month. that seems like a spectacular amount. i would be daunted, except i know i have often generated that much content here. and actually, i am still daunted. i am realizing how vastly different it is to write these reflections versus writing fiction.

the characters don’t belong to me like these thoughts and stories here. they have their own histories, often in their own utterly alien worlds. i have to be more vigorous than i have ever been to tell their stories well.

i’m writing.

i am voraciously consuming as much art and speculative writing as i can, at every opportunity. last week i went to see nico muhly’s opera ‘two boys’ at the met and was touched by the juxtaposition of the dramatic, familiar beauty of opera wrapped around the tender reductionist communication of teenage chatting. the whole thing felt deeply ambitious, and necessary – brave even. applying this aged art form to this moment creates more possibilities for how we can understand the dramas and longings of our own lives. the present as a gorgeous and operatic landscape? yes. and i was thinking of how i have fallen in love through long distance instant writing more than once, and again quite recently. how much of ourselves and our safety and our passions can now be revealed in these digital missives, reshaping our lives.

i also immersed myself in wangechi mutu’s work at the brooklyn museum. she makes these larger than life images of women’s bodies that simultaneously disturb and delight the mind. i went with a good friend and her toddler son, and it was amazing to watch him recognize the images, ‘owl, snake, eagle’, while what i saw was ripe vulva, mid-trauma, internal narratives, danger, freedom. watching her film ‘the end of eating everything’ with santigold on a full wall was remarkable.

both of these artists are in realms of their own imagining – i am excited to be alive at this time to see their work, and excited by the challenge of creating in a field that contains such brilliance.

i’m writing.

now, when i see people after any period of absence, they ask how the writing is going. i notice the reactions this pulls out of me. if i have written that day, i smile, i feel the ease of doing part of my life’s work, i speak about a story i am in the midst of. if i haven’t written that day i feel a defensiveness, a tightening, a pressure. how can you ask me about such a deeply personal thing??…except that i have thrown myself onto the stage. it is a rough thrill to be out in the open with this flagrant desire to write for my living. it feels like jazz hands before the music starts playing. vulnerable, naked, bold, precocious, deeply humbling.

and regardless of how it feels, whether it comes easy, if i feel up to it, my joy over what’s coming out, or my surprise because so far none of the stories are what i expected, regardless of all of that, with a palpable thrumming gratitude that reverberates under all of my days, i am writing.

the labor of letting in the good

happy labor day!

i am thinking today of the majority of people i know, who work 60-80+ hour weeks, struggle with taking weekends off, or scheduling vacations. i worked that way for a long time. i remember the sense of working constantly on never ending work, everything feeling like work because it has to happen on the outskirts of overwork.

and yet unions earned these basic boundaries on work, to improve the quality of all our lives. they labored for this, for us. so what happened?

i suspect it’s a matter of practice. we didn’t consistently practice holding the boundaries on work, maybe we never learned how. we let life quality fall to the side of the accumulation of resources. in a historical context of slavery, capitalism, caste systems – we are deeply entrenched in the traumatic practice of working for our right to live and be loved. we forgot that our existence is enough to earn us life and love.

so much easier said than done, but if we want to have the higher quality lives that were implied in the work of those unions, we have to keep learning how to live higher quality lives. particularly outside the context of financial and material accumulation; i work across class lines, and the overwork doesn’t seem to ebb as people earn more money, or status.

i have recently heard that it takes 10,000 hours of labor – of practicing something – before you achieve mastery in it. and 3-5000 repetitions of a movement in the body for it to become a muscle memory. i liked when i heard these numbers, this mathematics of mastery and muscle. it made my shoulders drop, a pacing intervention in my work and thinking.

i have rarely wanted something that could be achieved quickly, even when i was young and more naive and everything felt almost within reach, a function of collective will. i cut my teeth in spaces where the work felt urgent and as if a victory was just around the corner.

but, but…but. not quite. not even close.

at first i thought the clear reason we worked so hard and things still took so very long was because of all the opposition – in a binary paradigm there was always someone pushing back in the other direction of a dream. it was satisfying for a while, to look at someone or some people and ask why they didn’t want justicekindnessliberationhealthpeacelongevityetc. it grew less satisfying as i became more self-aware. i started to notice the tendency within myself to act from fear and scarcity against all those beautiful things.

that fear led to overwork.

that scarcity led to constant seeking for something outside myself, some sign of impact.

when my practice, my labor, includes casting the burden onto opposition, then my skill set is blaming, deconstructing and redirecting. constantly moving without growing, constantly reaffirming the right and wrong, with little space for the mystery, the real, or the iterative. 20+ years of that and i can’t just let it go, this all-the-time looking for who it is creating my suffering.

even a small weight of good, or of power, a drop in the palm, can be impossible to hold. i have noticed how much i have to develop my capacity to hold justice, gifts, health, love, the present moment. i think a lot about how we develop that capacity at a larger scale than the individual.

i can attest, as a writer, that it’s not enough to be able to speak the language of my longing, to articulate a vision. i say a lot of things that i would love to live up to, i am actively writing myself a better future. and…i can’t write my body to health, write to make the babies in my life feel my love, i can never write enough to thank my parents for their unconditionality, i can’t write abundant food distribution for detroiters, i can’t write guns out of a world full of loved ones, i can’t write off the way my big brown body is targeted, exoticized or dismissed.

i can be healthy, love, be with, grow, love this body in ways that transform how it can be seen.

i am convinced now that ideas must be paired with practice if they are to become matter, force, tangible, viable, in and of the universe. like, not just the idea of a weekend, but the practice of laying in bed until the body wants to move, cooking and chasing babies and laughing and wearing next to nothing, reading and lovemaking and pampering and restoring.

we are what we practice being, ultimately what we are as individuals and as communities and as a species is what we practice being.

so…what do we practice? where do we want our labor to go?

for me, so far, it’s balance and abundance. this is emergent – i started three years ago with two practices – sun salutations, and protecting my weekends (or the equivalent, two days a week that belonged to me).

abundance was the first thing i noticed as my practice grew…it was all around me when i looked for it. then balance…after years of a palpable instability in my days, i noticed balance was inside me when i stopped looking outwards.

these two practices have already liberated me into a life i couldn’t have imagined. but i am still just beginning the work, i am setting myself into longer arcs of change. and while the iterations pile up ahead of me, horizons on a turning world, i am also finding instant results. every time i practice being powerful, i feel the learning, the realigning in my system.

i am practicing letting my work follow my attention – what matters to me, outside of reacting? outside of hoarding? outside of fear?

i am practicing being a mindful eater. preparing or purchasing and eating three meals a day that are good for my body, it will take me at least ten years of practice to master mindful eating. it will be a muscle memory in three to five years. my labor is in the choices, and learning to be patient. i have been in a long practice of eating emotionally, indulgently, irresponsibly, in ways that cause pain and suffering in my body. each mindful eating experience is in itself a gift, a healing, a strengthening, an hour of feeling more alive in the present moment, making choices.

i am also applying my labor to being a good daughter, sister, aunt, lover and friend. to living an active life in my body. to generating an orientation towards vision and solutions with the communities i support through facilitation. to resolving conflict in new ways in every aspect of my life. to listening for my purpose in this world and stepping into it. to giving and receiving love that, as thich nhat hanh teaches, feels like freedom.

to letting in the good.

it’s all within my power.

sometimes i feel the foreshadowing of mastery, of the practice unfolding before me for years. i taste liberation in those moments.

it doesn’t even feel like work.

to be seen

for someone as public as i am, it amazes me that i can still be so uncomfortable with being seen.

most recently this has shown up as i contemplated making it possible for folks to financially support my writing here.

my internal story about this blog has been that it was just something i did. it started out as an exercise to train myself to write publicly. so i wrote my way through events, movement spaces, heartbreak and learning, through several jobs and homes. and for much of that time it was something i just did when i could.

and someday i would publish a book, be a Real Writer.

a few years back, two friends, seth and amy, pushed me to take it more seriously. seth gifted me my own domain name outside of social media, and amy designed the site for me. i got an inkling, then, that folks were really seeing me.

since then, more and more people have given me positive feedback, letting me know how my writing impacts them. i don’t get a lot of comments, and i don’t track site visits, but i get incredible and moving love notes, extended hugs, sheepish confessions and folks sending me their own writing and transformative a-has.

i love it, i love what my writing calls back from the world.

and it still comes as an amazing and pleasant surprise every time i find out someone is a regular reader. being in relationship with others around my writing has brought home to me that, in fact, this is not a small part of my life.

this may be one of my greatest contributions!

it’s certainly one of the greatest investments of my miraculous and limited time. it’s been a space where i have watched myself grow as i have written these thousands of pages.

as i have become more intentional about what belonged on here, and what didn’t, i realized that i wanted the content i offer to be healing, growing, honest and opening…that i couldn’t maintain a space, however small, for gossiping, complaining, tearing folks down, being less than my whole self, or blaming others for any part of my life.

the result is that i have grown not only as a writer, but as a person.

still, as i sat down to write today, i was trying to think about what would actually be worthy of my new members, worthy of people committing to read my words, engage with my thinking, and support my dream.

it took a few hours and drafts of pieces, drafted in my mind as i played with my niece and nephew, stockpiled firewood and tended the furnace, connected with close friends, and did some of my consulting work, before it occurred to me: i don’t have to prove myself worthy to y’all. you are already here, you have already responded and affirmed the writer and thinker i am.

i am already a Real Writer.

all i have to is take a deep breath, and let you see me.

and somehow, someday, find the words to share with you how good that feels, and how grateful i am that you found me.

i am a writer.

hello lovely readers.
during my sabbatical this year it became clear to me, again, that i am a writer. i am happiest when i am writing. and a lot of my writing happens here on this blog. i’m asking you to consider paying $1 or more a month to invest in my writer self if you regularly read my work and it moves you. if that’s not possible, i welcome you as a free member, and appreciate you giving me your attention and time :-)
towards abundance and living the dream for everyone!
amb

the hour for making

do you have a special time when you are at your most creative?

i have tried and tried to set my creative hour during the daytime, but no matter what i do, i find that it’s not til the sun goes down that the world is quiet enough for me to really get into my creative process.

for 2011 i am in a process of opening and learning and questioning.

the last phase of my life was in many ways defined by trying to know more than i could possibly know, in part because i was a young executive director, in part because it’s hard to make the distinction between facilitation and leadership and often in my effort to support transformation through facilitation, i would find myself in a position of leadership. it didn’t fall on me, i took it on…but when i think about shifts i want to make in my life, a major one is learning to hold the boundaries of facilitation more carefully, and explore what facilitative leadership and collective leadership really means.

this is challenging for an introvert virgo with a wild side, but i am committed.

one part of this practice is continuously putting myself in situations where i know, and everyone else around me knows, i am not an expert.

a second part of this practice is approaching the world with curiosity and questions and an eagerness to learn – rather than my default judgments and criticisms. it’s so much easier for me to make time to critique than to create, but i know when i make the choice to create it is more powerful than any old tired critiques.

part three is getting my house in order. i do this often, and it always liberates my mind from clutter. little improvements – getting the bookshelf i needed, the butter dish, rearranging things to be more instinctual – release my mind from obstacles and worry.

and the fourth part is what has me up so late: creating. tamara warren said, as many other wise writers have said, write every day. so i am writing, or creating art, every day. nothing i create fits into the hour i set aside for it, the creation time stretches for hours and i have to make way for it, move my reasoning self out of the way so a story can really emerge from me.

and then i feel awake, and alive, and unfinished – like there is a reason for all that i feel and think.

what is your hour for making?