Category Archives: Book Writing Saturday

Book Writing Saturday: On Hiatus

decembersunriseFour months ago, I committed myself to spending four hours of every Saturday working on my book, (of course, at that time, I had no idea that my sweet Dexter was about to be diagnosed with a fatal cancer, that I was also entering a season of good-bying). I am still committed to the practice, to that text, to that goal, but have decided to take the next month off from it, to take a little break. This won’t be a rest break, or a retreat, but rather a chance to do another practice more completely: Reverb12.

This practice is intended to help me process this past year and to look ahead into the next. I’m going to spend the time reflecting, setting my resolve, contemplating, celebrating, and considering–and sharing the process with you, kind and gentle reader.

Carolyn Rubenstein describes the origins of Reverb this way:

Back in 2010, three woman, Gwen BellKaileen Elise, and Cali Harris started what they named #reverb10. It was a prompt a day throughout December, delivered via email to help you reflect on the year and manifest what was to come in the upcoming year. The questions came from 31 different people across the web.

She goes on to say that

Closing in on December 2011, the #reverb10 team sent out an email
saying that for 2011, they were not hosting it again, and gave steps
on how anyone, and everyone, could host their own #reverb11. So many
people took up the torch—and I am hoping the same will happen again
for #reverb12.

I will be taking part in the Reverb that Kat is hosting at I Saw You Dancing. However, I’ll also be considering the prompts I’ve seen elsewhere:

First post coming tomorrow. For now, good night beautiful people, beautiful day.

Book Writing Saturday

Last night, Dexter and I played with his baby monkey until he fell asleep. Then I sat with him, his front feet pressed against my leg, the heat of his body warming me, the sound of his breath, the sound of our breath together, in and out, in and out. It was the purest of moments, sweet and quiet and joyful. The only reminders of his cancer were his runny eye and my sadness.

As always, in these moments when we are together and in love and nothing is wrong, I remind myself to just be there, to let go of panic and fear and grief, not to force those feelings away but to let them be with me, and even as I let them rest to also not cling or get attached, let those feelings leave when they are ready to go, allow them to dissolve.

And yet, I can’t help wishing that this sweet good-bying would go on forever, the two of us here together like this.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver

Book Writing Saturday

Sometimes writing is a lot like the way my mind works when I am walking with my dogs–a collection of random thoughts, a flood of images and phrases, moments of amazement and suffering, even of boredom. If these things are connected at all, it’s by the crazy maze my heart makes, the pattern of my breath, a map written in the blood ink of a warrior and traveled in dreams, both awake and asleep, only making sense in a way that’s beyond any language, but is still so completely true and knowable, tangible.

Walking with Dexter today, it was both an entirely new walk and every walk we’d ever taken. We were together and alone, completely connected in some moments, while in others we were limited to our ability to physically connect. I remembered, anticipated the grief that comes from one of us losing that physical reality, that body that can be known, seen and touched, and how when love loses its ability to attach to that, that reference point, that thing that can be held, we can become confused, lost, believing (wrongly so) that love goes with the body, that it ends there, with that physical separation. I spend now, this walk, memorizing his body, the way he moves, his soft fur with all it’s amazing colors, how serious he is about the walking but at the same time how much joy he feels doing it, the way he looks at me, his smile, his shadow, but also knowing that when that body is gone, the love we have will remain.

I stepped in poop while we were walking. It made me think, “when you don’t clean up after your dog, someone else will step in it.” It made me laugh, because that’s true about life in general, the choices we make: if you don’t clean up your mess, don’t tend to your shit, it will become someone else’s problem. Then when I got home and was cleaning up our own yard, actively dealing with my own shit, I managed to step in another pile, “my own” mess. If I continue with the metaphor, I’m not quite sure what that means–even when you are dealing with your issues, cleaning up after yourself, you might still get dirty, get hurt?

And later, inside, a post on Facebook from Your Inner Pilot Light, which said:

Love feels crazy vulnerable, doesn’t it? Love can drop you to your knees. Love can break your heart. Love can crush you if you let it. But what’s the alternative? Closing your heart? Shutting out love? Choosing fear instead? Nope. I know you, precious. And you know better. You know that love can also open you up. Love can make you giddy. Love leaves you feeling radically alive. Love improves your health. Love connects you, not just to other people, but to me, to Source. Love is the antidote to fear. What do you choose, darling?

I choose love, always love, which guarantees that I’ll be hurt. Maybe that’s the point, the pattern, the message of all the random thoughts, the moments big and small, the piles of shit, the love and the loss–life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible, but keep your heart open anyway, surrender to what is, stay awake, experience all of it. This is the way to live, to be fully alive. Of course, Dexter already knows all of this.

Book Writing Saturday

This past week I felt whelmed, a curious mixture of overwhelmed by everything there is to accomplish but underwhelmed with excitement about actually doing it. I had very little energy or motivation. I felt tired, confused, scattered and sad. Dexter was the tiniest bit worse. My hair is falling out again, as it does when I let stress creep in. The weather has turned cold and sloppy. It doesn’t help that I am coming down with a case of the crud.

And yet, that’s not the whole story. There were a hundred other moments that were amazing, beautiful, and full of kindness, (one being Mary Anne Radmacher calling me “fiercely gentle Jill”). So many that all the stuff that wasn’t so great didn’t even end up mattering, (well, except for that part about Dexter).

Tulku Thondup describes mindfulness as “the giving of oneself to the moment.” And as so many other wise beings have said, if you are in the moment, there is no problem, everything is workable. Geneen Roth said,

A gentle question to ask yourself: am I alright now, in this very second? And if you are, say that. “In this moment, I am alright. I am fine.” It allows you to cut through the stories and the anxiety and fear. Stop everything and take in the alrightness of just this moment. There will always be problems, so many problems, but if you stay grounded in your own presence, in your own alrightness, you can deal with them from a clear space.

This morning, Dexter and I took a long walk together while Eric and Sam where hiking at Lory State Park. Dexter’s left eye has been runny this past week, and I sometimes wonder which way his tumor is growing. Will his face start to swell, or is it pushing towards his brain? What are those last days, that final moment going to look like? But usually, I don’t waste my time with such speculation. I walk with him, play with him, pet him, love him, and even as we are good-bying, I surrender to the space of us still together.

Book Writing Saturday

Sanctuary: a place of refuge or safety, a consecrated place where sacred objects are kept.

Yesterday in my writing group, we did a guided meditation in which we constructed a creative sanctuary. Somewhere we could go whenever we needed it, imagined yes, but tangible and whole nonetheless. I went into this the same way I do everything else: having already made up my mind. If I were to have such a place, of course it would be a cabin in the mountains.

The first part of the meditation was to imagine a path leading to our sanctuary. What manifested for me was a path of sand. I have a friend who just got back from Hawaii, so I assumed this was placing my sanctuary in a tropical location, and I resisted. This was not right, the path should be stone or dirt. I tried to force it, to see that instead, but every time I tried to place that image over what was already in my mind, it immediately dissolved and the sand path asserted itself again.

When we reached the part of the meditation where we were to go inside and look around, it all made sense. There were two full walls of windows and as soon as I saw the view, I new it was right: the beach at Waldport. Not a tropical location at all, but rather the place where half my heart lives.

I love Colorado. My job is here, I own a home here, my tiny little family lives here, and I am in love with the beauty of this land, specifically northwestern Colorado–the mountains, the Poudre River, the animals, the rocks, the sky and the trees. I love living in Fort Collins, having the university campus and Old Town both so close, but also living far enough north that it’s not unusual to see a fox running down the road in the middle of the afternoon, or to have neighbors that have horses and chickens. I love having so many parks and wild places in town to walk the dogs, and so many close places to hike.

And yet, half of my heart lives in Waldport, Oregon. Every other year, we try to plan a month long vacation there, and the rest of the time, I dream about it, miss it. I’m not sure I could ever again live year round with the gray sky and rain of the Pacific Northwest, but it still is home to me. It made total sense that if I would imagine a sanctuary, this is the place my heart would wish for, the location my mind would imagine.

Even though the location made total sense, I was surprised by what I found inside. My creative process usually seems so focused on a goal, on a product, I expected that to be the case in my sanctuary. We were guided to see the things we were working on, to imagine them, but what I saw was more about process and practice: a yoga mat, a comfortable and cozy place to read and dream (a huge white heavy cotton sectional couch facing the windows), a meditation shrine and cushion, art supplies and a computer, stacks of journals and books, a large kitchen with a long farm table that could seat at least 10, either for dinner or making art or simply “shooting the shit.” Rather than a private art studio with evidence of many completed projects, it was a retreat space that could be used by just me or welcome a larger group.

The NaBloPoMo prompt for yesterday was “If you could live anywhere, where would it be?” The clear answer is I would live most of the year in Fort Collins, Colorado, and spend summers in Waldport, Oregon. I dream of a day when I have a real sanctuary on the beach there, one that I can use but also share with others who need a retreat space, a safe place to rest and dream and play, a place of comfort, a space to practice, a sanctuary.

Book Writing Saturday

Just last week, these trees were on fire with golden leaves. Now, they are bare, naked and gray. They remind me that life is like this: one minute you are burning with life, and in the next moment, things have changed and so have you. We will all be lit up, shine for a brilliant but relatively brief moment, and eventually our light will go out. This is impermanence, this is the nature of our experience.

Someone recently asked me, after finding out I was a writing teacher, “oh, I have a friend who is a writing major, do you have any advice for her?” I mumbled some string of random things that essentially boiled down to “it’s a hard way to make a living.” I said something about developing other unique skills that would be related, like being able to code a webpage, that she should be willing to string together a lot of other little things to add up to a “living,” and that only people who really want it, are determined, will be able to stay with it long enough to make it, that you have to really want it. She surprised me with the question and I didn’t really know what to say, but it’s worth considering.

“What do you do?”
“I am a writer.”
“Really? What have you written?”
“Words on paper.”
~From an actual conversation I’ve had, more than once

And when I spent a bit of time considering it, my answer wasn’t much better: Read. Write, a lot. Develop a practice. If your first question is “how do I get published?,” you’re doing it wrong. Stop talking about it. Don’t join a writer’s group. Take classes, but know when to stop learning and just do. Don’t write for attention, money or fame, write because you can’t help yourself, you can’t stop yourself–don’t be a writer unless it’s your only option and you just know you’ll die if you don’t. Discover your own voice. “Pay attention, be astonished and tell about it,” (Mary Oliver). Some of the time, don’t write. Don’t forget to live, don’t forget to breathe. Pay attention to story. See meaning everywhere. Recognize patterns and believe in magic. Let go of judgement. Surrender. Try. Fail. Try again. Show up. Be boring in your life but wild on the page. Tell the truth. Get rid of energy vampires, shadow comforts and time monsters. Be your own kind of weird. Be kind.

Then it came to me, the only advice worth giving, the only way I know for sure how to be a writer, the only way to be alive, awake: live with your heart all the way open, and even when it’s hard, when it hurts, keep it open. In this way, you will know things, you will notice, and you will recognize what needs to be said about what you see, you will understand the secret message that only you can communicate, that just maybe you were born to share. As you “feel the rapture of being alive” (Joseph Campbell), you will know what to say, you will connect your innate wisdom and kindness to the right words and tell the story that the rest of us need to hear.

Book Writing Saturday

The truth is that sometimes there’s a need to yield, to soften, to surrender, to get out of the way of something bigger and faster than you, to give up even. Today feels like that kind of day.

This morning, we went on a mini hike with Dexter at Lory State Park. It’s been three weeks since he’s been there. That last hike was a real one: at least eight miles, most of it spent running. But then things shifted for him just enough that we decided that kind of exercise might be too much for him now, and the times since when Eric has gone with Sam, Dexter has waited at home with me. I was feeling so bad about it that I asked Eric to go this morning, so we could all be there together one more time, even if we couldn’t go that far. We still went about six miles, but we stayed down in the flat land, rather than hiking up in the rocks. We saw the sunrise and lots of deer, and I took a lot of pictures. It felt good to be there, together.

I have to admit though that this letting go is wearing me down. I am tired, depleted, and raw. My intention to work on this book, to keep going is every bit as intense as before, I just don’t have the energy right now to do anything more than to live it. Today I chose to spend what I have, energy and time, with my little family, to take comfort in that, and then to allow myself to rest.