Tag Archives: Justine Taormino

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.

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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.

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