Category Archives: Justine Taormino

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Permission

image by Justine

image by Justine

My friend and one of my favorite bloggers Justine is hosting a read-a-long for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Justine provides prompts for each section of the book on her blog, and invites readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. I decided to blog my responses.

Justine’s prompts for the third section of the book are:

  • As you read about the idea of permission what came up for you? Are you seeking permission in any areas of your life / creativity? Permission is a huge issue for me in terms of my creative life, my life. For many many years, I knew what I wanted, who I was, but I thought I had to wait for permission. I thought there would be an invitation, or that I had to earn a certification. I misunderstood completely how the whole thing worked, so I waited, got stuck there, almost gave up. The permission I’m looking for now is to live without apology, to want without guilt, to know that I don’t have to earn the right to be here.
  • Gilbert explains the attitude of “insouciance” that allowed her parents to do whatever they liked when it came to their creative living, and how that influenced her own path. What are some of the attitudes and assumptions of your family-of-origin? And, as Gilbert suggests, go back through your family history, where are the makers? Where do you come from? And then, it doesn’t matter. We’re all creators. Make your art. I think there was a lot of fear and compliance in my family history, being rewarded for doing as required or expected, punished for not, and trying to control the chaos in a way that stunted freedom and joy. There was a lot of hurt and struggle. The conditions of living were just so different. Gilbert’s own experience with strong willed, stubborn, smart and gifted parents felt familiar to me. I come from a long line of teachers, fixers, farmers. All the women are crafty and all the men can repair stuff. They built things with their bare hands. They were funny and smart. The conditions of their lives didn’t always allow for full expression of their creativity, but it was right there, just below the surface all the time. In my family of origin, there’s a writer and a photographer and an artist, all who didn’t get to fully experience or express that, which only fuels my desire to keep trying.
  • Gilbert writes of her dad: “He didn’t quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life.” How can you fold your dreams into your everyday life? Gah. I’m totally doing it. I complain and want out of it (all of which I wanted to take back after reading this chapter), but this is how it’s working. I wake up early so I can practice before going to work at CSU, and then my days are a mix of work I do in the service of others and my own creativity — but they don’t really stay neatly separated, are blurring together and tripping over each other all the time. Like conjoined twins, they are two separate beings and yet they aren’t independent at all. They feed each other at the same time they steal from each other.
  • How are you living your “most vividly decorated temporary life”? By not compartmentalizing things. Practice isn’t just practice. My CSU work isn’t just work. My creativity isn’t just of and for itself. When I teach I learn. When I write, I simultaneously dig in and let go. When I’m by myself, I’m not alone. Being tired is its own form of energy, and work can be its own kind of rest. The lines between things, the boundaries fall away, and there’s nothing but wide open space.
  • Pretend you’re in your own hostage negotiation with those negative, internal voices. Speak directly, but lovingly and make your “statement of intent”. I’m not giving up. It’s that simple.
  • “I enjoy my creativity.” Go on, say it. The whole thing she says right before that is so great. “I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, no to become famous, not to gain entrance into the canon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it.”

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Enchantment

image by Justine

image by Justine

In case you missed my first post, let me explain. My friend and one of my favorite bloggers Justine is hosting a read-a-long for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Justine provides prompts for each section of the book on her blog, and invites readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. I decided to blog my response.

Justine’s prompt for the second section of the book are:

  • When it hits you, what does inspiration feel like in your body? Fluttery, like my whole body is suddenly buzzing and jittery, stomach full of butterflies and head full of bees, but also floaty, like gravity has stopped working, and hot, on fire — but weirdly, considering the previous descriptors, completely still and quiet, calm.
  • How have you said “yes” and how have you said “no” to ideas and inspiration in the past? I’m going to flip my answer and give the bad news first — I said “no” to ideas and inspiration for almost 35+ years. I got “the call” in the 2nd grade. It was so clear and I was so sure, so excited and ready, but from then on it got very, very confusing. There was still the occasional buzz, but I just wasn’t available. I had to work through so much before I could be ready, and yet, in the end, it wasn’t about being ready at all. I wasn’t ready when my first dog and my dear friend were both diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t ready when they died. And yet, that experience happened anyway, and it broke me open. I couldn’t go back to the way things were, so I really didn’t have a choice. I said the biggest yes ever — to finding myself again, to living a creative life, to staying awake, to being present, to keeping my heart open.
    And with that, I said “yes” to starting a blog, reading and studying and learning, attending workshops and retreats and conferences, finding a community, publishing places other than on my blog, being a teaching assistant for Mondo Beyondo, putting together the Self-Compassion Saturday series and then the ebook, becoming certified to teach yoga, getting another dog (then losing another dog to cancer and getting yet another dog), becoming the Communications Coordinator for the English department at CSU, shifting the way I thought about money, working to simplify my life, taking Buddhist vows, teaching yoga, teaching workshops and classes that are a mix of yoga and writing and meditation, working on a book, forgiving myself, befriending myself.
    I said “no” to doing things because I thought I should, pleasing/perfecting/pretending/performing, staying in projects and relationships that were toxic, alcohol, waiting for permission, dieting, starving and stuffing myself, people who don’t love or even see me, anyone else’s idea of what I’m supposed to look like, things I don’t need anymore, teaching for CSU, denying myself, smashing myself to bits. Maybe these yeses and nos don’t seem like they are all related to inspiration and creativity, but believe me, they are.
  • Is there an idea trying to “wave you down” right now? What’s keeping you from saying “yes” to it? There are a few — some classes and workshops I want to offer, a creativity club I want to start, and “the book.” The poor book doesn’t get the time or space it needs to come together, even though I’ve already written probably at least 70% of it. I let myself get distracted by work, by constructing new work, by other writing, by all the stuff and projects of my life. I sure hope it doesn’t give up on me, pass me by. When I think about it, I feel like I should pray or something, but all I can think of to say is “please don’t give up on me, please wait for me.” I think there’s some part of me that doesn’t understand how to write a book, worries I won’t be able to figure it out.
  • Do you identify with the tormented artist or the cooperating joyfully approach more? What can you do to make creativity more of a partnership? I think I’m a tormented person in general, dissatisfied because I want SO MUCH but I’m only human, only have so much time and energy. I see the list of ALL THE THINGS, hold it in my mind and heart all the time, and the longing can feel overwhelming, so much bigger than what I can actually do. And I skip right past celebrating where I am, enjoying what I’m doing, into “but what about…” I do try in my regular practices to offer an invitation, to open myself up to what might arise. I do this when I meditate every morning, and I do it when I write my morning pages, even addressing them to “Dear One” and signing off with “Thank you.” A partnership would require more focused attention from me, I think. To be with what is right now without rushing off, to slow down, to balance my effort with ease. I think creativity needs me to spend more time staring at my toes, day dreaming, doing nothing.
  • What are your expectations surrounding your creative genius? Are you showing up consistently, upholding your end of the partnership? I am definitely doing the work. I show up every day. Discipline in that way isn’t my issue. I think my problem right now is I’m not letting my creative genius help. I’m so busy with the doing that there’s no room for it, no space. It can’t get a word in edgewise. I haven’t left a place for it, need to scoot over, slow down, surrender to it.

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Courage

image by Justine

image by Justine

My friend and one of my favorite bloggers Justine is hosting a read-a-long for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Justine provided prompts for the first section of the book on her blog, and invited readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. At first, I was going to journal about the prompts this morning, then send her an email, along with some times when I could Skype so we could discuss it the next time we talk, but as I started to write out the first prompt in my journal, I thought to myself, “why don’t I just blog a response?” Duh. It’s funny how much work I’ve put into cultivating this space, but then I forget to use it other times when it’s so obviously the right place for something.

Justine’s prompts for the first section of the book are:

  • What are some of the fears that crop up when you think about living a more creative life? My first fear, the most immediate one right now as I consider how I might shift the way I make my living to be more focused on my creative pursuits, is money — how will I make any money if this is how I’m spending my time? Which leads directly to the next fear — time. I worry that I don’t have enough time, that I don’t have the energy or space or days left it will take to accomplish all the things I want to do. After that comes the deep longing to make a difference, to help, to be of service, and wondering if what I do does those things. I also worry about the amount of time my creative pursuits take away from what I can give to Eric and the dogs, the time I can spend with family and friends — am I cheating them, am I giving enough attention there? And finally, (and you’ve heard me say this before, recently), I’m afraid I’m boring, that what I have to offer won’t be meaningful to anyone else. These fears all stem from the same fundamental confusion: I think that living a creative life has to have a product that is worth something, an outcome that is valuable enough to justify itself. It goes back to that same, original confusion: that I have to earn the right to be here, to have the life I want.
  • Like Gilbert’s friend who started ice skating again at 40, what life affirming pursuits are you denying yourself? How can you begin “to appreciate the value of (your) own joy”? I’m most definitely denying myself joy. I think I have to accomplish a certain amount first, that joy is the reward for hard work rather than a necessary condition of living. Things I don’t do as much as I’d like: read, nap, relax, laugh, pause, make art for art’s sake, practice yoga, stretch, sit in the sun, go outside, hike, take long walks, ride a bike, garden, follow my curiosity, spend time with friends, play with my dogs, do nothing, have no plans, focus on one thing at a time. I’d like to learn how to swim and play the ukulele, take singing lessons or a painting class. But even these things I can turn into a project if I’m not careful. How I can begin is to stop, as weird as that might sound. To stop doing, stop trying, stop planning. Just stop and see what happens, wait for what might arise.
  • Gilbert tells the story of arguing for her own limitations.
    1. Why do you think it feels easier to argue for our limitations rather than for our strengths? We are so desperate to let ourselves off the hook, somehow think that it’s easier to give up. We make a lot of effort to avoid what is hard thinking we can get ourselves out of it somehow. Fundamentally we are struggling with the truth of how hard life is, how vulnerable we are, what a raw deal it is that we love and delight and enjoy our life just to one day lose everything. If we can hide away in our cocoon of excuses, we think we can skip that part, pretend it away. It makes me think of the Pema Chödrön quote, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” We think we can excuse ourselves from that experience if we have a good enough reason.
    2. What limitations of your own do you argue for? I can’t because I have too many responsibilities, things I have to do first. I can’t because I’m too tired, not strong enough. I don’t have enough time. Why should I have to when she/he isn’t doing anything? Why can’t my life be easy? It’s harder for me. I work so hard, shouldn’t I get a break? I didn’t start early enough. I’m too sad, too stressed out, too many bad things have happened.
    3. What thinking, saying or action can you embrace to argue for your strengths instead? Being present always feels better than being numbed out. No matter how scary or difficult the situation, my innate wisdom and compassion will guide me — I always know what to do, even if it’s to admit that I don’t know what to do. Doing the hard thing is so much easier than what it would take to avoid it. Showing up with an open heart is my superpower.
  • Write a welcoming speech for your fear. Maybe instead of a road trip your metaphor is a camping trip or running a marathon. Whatever the situation, how can you welcome and acknowledge fear and still keep the reins firmly in your creative hands? In my Buddhist lineage, I was given a teaching that included placing the mind of fear “into a cradle of lovingkindness.” My fear always seems to me like something very young and afraid, vulnerable and sweet, easily invited to crawl into my lap and rest. I can also easily imagine it clinging to me like a baby orangutan. In all of those circumstances, there’s not much of a speech involved. All I offer is the invitation to “come here” and the reassurance that “it’s okay.”
  • As you go about your week, think about approaching your day with curiosity instead of fear. What does that shift for you? Does it create any ease? There’s a lot of talk recently in the books I’m reading, most specifically this one and Brene’ Brown’s Rising Strong, about shifting to being curious. This non-judgmental approach, this leaning into what’s happening with an open mind and heart, allowing whatever might arise and being curious about our reaction rather than immediately reacting is something I already practice, in all the ways I practice — yoga, mediation, writing, and dog. I’m so lucky to have been taught this in all my traditions, to know this is an option and to have seen the outcome in my own experience. This approach shifts absolutely everything, creating ease and space and sanity.

Thank you Justine for the prompts, for the chance to get to think about these things, contemplate and reflect. I especially appreciate the way listing my fears made it clear that they really are all the same fear underneath.

Blog Hop

27powersmorningWhen my dear friend Laurie asked me to take part in this blog hop — to answer four questions about writing, publish my responses a week after she published hers, invite three other bloggers to follow me (this part didn’t go exactly as expected — I ended up with one instead, too late to invite two more, but the one really is a good one, so there’s that), bloggers who would then invite three more bloggers, and so on and so on — I immediately said yes. I was curious to see how I’d answer the questions, what I might learn from the exercise. I also would say yes to just about anything Laurie asked me to do. I’m crazy about her like that.

Last fall, I took three trips to 27 Powers, Laurie’s home, a magical retreat in Alameda, CA. By way of the time I spent there, and with Laurie’s guidance (along with that of Jennifer Louden, Andrea Scher, and Rachel Cole, and in the company of other amazing and brave women who joined me there), I found my way back to myself, made my way home. I took my seat at the table, joined a long lineage of creative women, belonged.

bycarolyneicher1. What am I working on/writing?

Morning pages, my daily writing practice. Blogging, always blogging. An ebook about self-compassion, which is a compilation of my story and the wisdom of the women who took part in my Self-Compassion Saturday series.  A memoir about how I saved myself through the practices of writing, yoga, meditation, and dog. And a few other short pieces, always a few stragglers and loose ends, collecting like dust bunnies under my writing desk.

2. How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know how “different” my work is, other than the fact that everything I write has been filtered first through my own experience, is colored by my particular view, and in that way is unlike anyone else’s. For example, I write about grief and loss, but I get there by way of losing two of my dogs to cancer, through falling to my knees in the weeds of my flowerbed on the day before my friend Kelly died, shoving my hands into the dirt in the only prayer I could offer.

I write a lot about practice, struggle and transformation. I mix self-help with memoir, and I like to think my phrasing and word choices can at times be almost graceful while still being dirty and true, but mostly I try to communicate how messy but also brilliant it is to be human, to offer a map for others trying to find their way. Rather than trying to be different, I aspire to write as honestly as someone like Anne Lamott and as beautifully as someone like Christina Rosalie.

3. Why do I write what I do?

For the same reason I do almost everything: to ease suffering, in myself and in the world. I write first to help myself, to find understanding and clarity, to transform, to heal. Then I offer what I think might help others do the same. Hopefully what I write can make us feel less alone, encourage us, keep us from giving up.

4. How does my writing process work?

First of all, it’s a daily practice. I show up, no matter what, and I write. I get up by 5 a.m. every morning, let the puppy out, go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, sit down and write. Every day starts like this. As I write — getting down all the details of the day before, getting rid of all the garbage floating around in my head — ideas for other things come up. I write as much as I can to give myself a start, so I can come back to it later. Sometimes I get lucky and my morning pages are something almost completely formed. All I need to do is type it up, make a few edits, and send it off or publish it.

It’s that kind of ease practice gives me. I start to see things as I move through my day that will become blog posts or essays or part of a book. I don’t just write differently because of practice, the way I see my life, my experience, has been transformed. The writer is always watching, making meaning and seeing patterns, working to understand.

I blog pretty regularly, so I’m usually either starting a post or finishing and publishing one, (although not quite so much lately, what with yoga teacher training and a new puppy). Some of my posts run on a schedule, so all I have to do is show up and do that thing I do, and others spontaneously arise, insist on being written. Bigger writing projects seem to either be a flash that burns bright and fast and I just need to keep up, or slow moving, requiring endurance and my patience.

Essential to my writing process is reading. A bad habit I picked up in graduate school is that I’m usually reading at least six books at a time. I just started Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing and Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. I also read a lot on the web, blogs and articles. Reading feeds me, gives me pleasure, but it also teaches and guides me, fuels and informs my own writing.

I carry a notebook and pen everywhere, always ready to write something down, capture it when it comes to me.  I also moodle as part of my process. Brenda Ueland insisted that imagination needs moodling, which she described as “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.” To write, I need some portion of my time spent daydreaming, staring at my toes, doing nothing.

Finally, my other practices (yoga, meditation, and dog) are inextricably linked to my writing process. Moving my body through a series of yoga poses, training my mind and making friends with myself on my meditation cushion, and taking daily long walks with my dogs all allow me to crawl inside myself, be still and write.

My fellow blog hoppers;

Laurie Wagner is a writer and writing teacher. She teaches Wild Writing at her home in Northern California + hosts the 27 Powers Traveling Writers Series, which brings the brightest, grooviest, most unusual writers to Alameda to teach. Her books include, Living Happily Ever After: Couples Learn about Longtime Love, and Expectations: 30 Women Talk about Becoming a Mother, both from Chronicle Books. Her essays have appeared in Salon, Glamour, Brain, Child + The Berkeley Monthly. She blogs at 27 Powers Writing True Life.


Justine Taormino is an INFJ and a Pisces with moon in Scorpio – dualities, emotions and intuition are her jam. Warm, empathetic and resourceful, Justine worships the world through feelings and deep conversation. She is interested in experiences – how people anticipate, dream of, live through, enjoy and reflect on their daily lives. In 2010, after struggling with years of anxiety, pressure and whole lot of “shoulds,” she got herself a therapist. This is also when she began her blog, Allowing Myself, adopted a dog, bought a beach cruiser and began falling in love with her “one precious life.” She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and best-dog-ever Carter Cash. The most recent quote to break her heart is by Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” You can find her on Instagram @jtaormino21 and Twitter @jtaormino.