No good reason to write

I hate when I get out of the habit of writing. I feel life’s pointless; I feel I will never catch the momentum of my creative life again.

It’s like the train is idling in the station and I have to run and catch it. This has happened a million times when I drove down from Lake Champlain to Albany-Rensselaer. I had to run to catch the train, back to the city, back to work.

Once I missed the train and I was so pissed. Couldn’t they have radioed down to tell the conductor, “Wait one minute!” I watched the train pull away.

I digress. I was writing about writing. And how hard it is to write.

I have been preoccupied with winding down from my day job; vacating up in the Adirondacks; teaching my first boot camp workshop; caring for kids, spouse, family; trying to get my freelance biz going; and now organizing the Adirondack Memoir Retreat (Oct. 25-28 – Please come).

The point of my life is to make stuff.

Yet all things conspire to get in my way when I sit down to to write. Everything and everyone. And they don’t even mean to. And besides, I tell myself there’s no good reason to write. No one’s asking me, “Can you please blog?” (But kids ask me, “Can you fix some dinner?”)

There’s no good reason to blog because it doesn’t make any money. And why do anything but make a buck? our capitalist society asks.

Yet our souls hunger for art. Our lives need to make things of beauty or else it’s all for nothing. It’s all spent grasping for the stupid gold ring on the merry-go-round. And you can never grasp it. You can never have enough. Money does not satisfy.

Art satisfies. Creativity gives back. Handmade dinners, crafts, and poems thank you. If they don’t, well, then you have something to write about then too. Write about the disappointment and the tragedy of all that lack of return on your investment.

Most of the time, you get the return, you catch the train. The conductor waits.

I have caught the train more times than I have missed it. I hopped on. I watched the cities roll by my window. I opened my laptop. I caught my breath from the run to the train and started writing.

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. But yesterday I went to the Staten Island Yankees game. On the free ferry, you pass Lady Liberty. You are free and at liberty to pursue your happiness.

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Writing as a Practice

I make writing my spiritual practice. It takes practice.

Winding down my work days at my day job and gearing up for my new small biz, I have let my blogging slide. I want to get back into the practice.

Also, let’s face it, the Olympics are on. I watch these athletes every night. I see effortless skill and human perfection. It looks like magic. But to get into these games, they have spent at least ten thousand hours practicing.

Practice is such a boring word and is such a boring idea. It seems to bear no fruit. It reminds me of those few piano lessons I had in second grade, sitting there in our front room in Skokie, Illinois. No one to hear me or encourage me as I pounded out my drills and scales.

And it all amounted to nothing. I did not seem to get better. I still can’t play the piano. Truth be told, I spent way more time avoiding practice than practicing. I loved kickball better.

But wait, there were a few moments of fun. I remember goofing off on the piano by myself, figuring out how to play Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, not by reading the music, but by hearing the tune I loved in my head and playing it. Just playing around.

I guess if practice requires some kind of play, some kind of goofing around, it is not deadly boring. Practice, then, becomes a discovery and not a rote memory.

Practice becomes a journey, a way to pole vault you from one side of the hurdle to another.

I may never make it to the Olympics of writing, but I will practice any way. For in the art of practice, there is gold.

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This was the back of a tee shirt at the United Methodist Ubuntu Day of Service, working at the Tierra Negra Farm in Durham, NC.

WordPress WordCamp

After last weekend’s workshops, I felt a swift kick in the pants about my blogging habits. I realized I need to up my game and move from amateur status to pro. I’ve been dabbling and I need to commit.

In the workshop, “Triple Your Post Frequency,” Andraz Tori of Zemanta said blogging is like working out — You need to make it a habit, break a sweat, and sometimes hire a coach.

The workshops opened my eyes to the number and variety of people working with WordPress, our blogging home. A ton of hat-wearing dudes and chicks are using WordPress as a platform to develop websites. (I love the word platform, I always think of the public park district pool and the platform from which I jumped (and others dove) into a cool summer pool.)

The pre-party for WordPress WordCamp speakers and organizers at the Mad Hatter.

My workshop was on the topic of Social Media and Social Movements. When I saw my time slot, 9:30 am, I worried that it was too early to get enough activists to make the workshop lively – as I’d built in time for small-group discussion.

Thankfully, about a dozen bloggers showed up — including Ron Suarez, an Occupy Wall Streeter.and Yangbo Du, a global social media guru.

At the end of my workshop, a bunch of people started trickling in. Cool! Had word gotten out through Twitter how much fun we were having? How awesome my workshop was? No, Frederick Townes, lead techy for Mashable, was speaking in the room after me and people were jockeying for a good seat.

No matter. I’ve committed to posting more regularly. I am going to post on this blog every Sunday and post on MBCoudal My Rules every Friday. And then post on My Beautiful New York and Health and Fitness whenever the spirit moves me.

Because, much as I try, I cannot schedule or legislate my creativity. My muses are wild; they cannot be tamed.

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Workshop on WordPress

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be viewed as an expert. So I have been teaching a lot since January. Teaching is a great way to find out how much you know and how much you still need to learn.

I’ve been teaching middle school kids comedy and creative writing. Beth Buchanan (on the right) and I’ve taught communicators social media skills at the Religion Communicators Council and at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. (I love team teaching — much less stressful than solo teaching.)

Me and Beth Buchanan. She’s my social media guru. Because of Beth, I got on Facebook and it’s been all downhill from there.

My next (solo) teaching gig is at Word Camp at Baruch College in New York City from June 9 to 10. The title of my workshop is “Social Media and Social Movements.”

My session, one of 80, is hands-on — perfect for beginners, non-techie types, and people devoted to a cause. But there are a lot of workshops that are geared to people who love ideas like digital marketing, shared hosting, HTML5, and hyperlocal. (Attend this conference to find out what those terms mean. What’ve you got to lose? It’s $35.)

I love WordPress for being my landing page — a place to post my resolutions and then achieve them. And along the way, help others to become experts too.

Facebook group for home organizing

This is totally embarrassing. I had been doing a lot of stash and dash at my desk at home – work papers, teaching ideas, bills, notes for blog topics, kids’ school papers, my art projects.

I posted a picture in a closed Facebook group, 2012 – Out With the Old Declutter Group. The group, founded by Alison, is a way for about 30 eclectic friends and acquaintances to hold one other accountable for making and keeping our home organizing goals.

And one Saturday in January I posted this picture:

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I saw what I needed to do. I told the group I would clean my desk. So, little by little, throughout that one day, I organized. I found things I had been missing, like my wedding ring. I also found a still life of a pear that I’d painted and thought was pretty good, so I framed it.

To organize my papers, I grouped like with like. I filed some papers in my file cabinet, started a binder full of curricula, threw out papers, Christmas cards, my art.

And then I posted a pic of the finished, decluttered desk:

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It felt so good to make my home space pretty and functional. And I didn’t need to hire personal organizer. I just needed social media — my online accountability group and my camera phone. Priceless.

Switching from Verizon to Sprint

It took three days hours to switch our phone service at our nearby Radio Shack.

The reason it took so long was that I could not authenticate myself. See, I gave them my license and credit card and passed the credit approval, but then Johary, the clerk at the store, handed me a phone and the operator asked me a series of questions, which seemed easy enough, like, “From which state did you receive your Social Security number?”

Maybe I was too breezy with my answers. The kids were tugging at my sleeve and the store was noisy. We had to get to the airport. And one of the the first of the three multiple choice questions I didn’t really hear.

In one question, the operator asked, “Where have you lived?” And rattled off some cities, to which I replied, “None of the above,” although one of the choices was my sister’s city.

Finally, the verdict. I was not authentic. I asked to speak to the supervisor on the Sprint authentication line. This is when my son began shushing me. Apparently I was becoming ticked off a little loudly. Janet #2233 in Colorao, the supervisor, apologized, but said, “You did not pass the test. You got two out of three questions wrong. Try again in 60 days.”

Janet was kind enough to suggest that before my next attempt, I should get a copy of my public record from my local county court. Presumably, I could bone up on myself.

Really? Really?

Me? I am the one who seeks authenticity in everything. But apparently I do not know myself well enough to get a new fricken’ phone.

The matter of the new phones finally got resolved when I called my husband who, apparently, was able to authenticate himself. (I had to head out of the store for the last couple of hours to get to my creative writing class.)

We did get new phones, but were not able to switch all the phone numbers and the data. The sales guy who was helping us, his daughter was in the hospital, which made us all feel bad for taking so much time.

our new phones

And any way, we did have a plane to catch. And as you can see, it was fun to play with the new phones as we waited in the airport lounge.

Why I Write

We do not write to be understood. We write to understand. – C.S. Lewis

This was one of the quotes from Writing for the Soul, a workshop led by Rev. Lynne Hinton in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. She has written 14 novels. Yes, 14! Oh, to be so prolific.

Tomorrow, Nanowrimo starts so I’m hoping to write one more novel this month!

In Rev. Hinton’s workshop, we began with free writing à la Julia Cameron’s admonition in The Artist’s Way to write three morning pages — which I have been practicing for about 15 years. Every morning, I hand write three pages of brain drain. But give me free rein later in the day to tap into my unconscious and I’m, oh so happy.

Lynne gave us an exercise where we chose random words, picked like wild flowers from our unconscious, to add to word prompts, like these (but not these, exactly!):

Diamond _____

Shelter _____

Instant _____

Prayer _____

Barcelona _____

Boo _____

Avoid _____

Teacup _____

Angel _____

School _____

Write _____

Create _____

Ocean _____

Sun _____

Venice _____

June ____

Moon _____

You get the idea. We wrote our own couple of dozen words down the page on the blank lines. From our written words or the provided prompts, we made sentences on bits of paper. Then we shuffled our sentences and wrote them down in a poem format.

How fun! Our internal censor didn’t even know we were writing a poem, we were just playing around! Writing is play!

It’s impossible — at least, for me — to attend a writing workshop and not make new friends. I find the adage so true —  A stranger (or a fellow writer) is just a friend I haven’t met yet.

Often in writing workshops, my friends and I drop into such a deep level of sharing that we cry when we hear each other’s work. I felt this way hearing the poems of my fellow writers, Jessica Connor, Beth Buchanan, Kerry Wood and Isaac Broune. I was blown away as they unearthed playful and meaningful poetry from their unconscious.

I am so grateful for the wisdom of fellow writers, writing teachers and my own ability to tap into my unconscious on a regular basis. Going a little crazy in my writing keeps me sane!

The Westport Workshops

Went well.

I love when people open up — give me stories about your divorce, depression, cancer treatment, or dysfunctional childhood. And then half-way through your writing, lay it on me about how you handled the whole thing with faith, resilience, humor, or alcohol.

Better yet, write about your most embarrassing moment — the time you felt so humiliated you thought you’d never crawl back into civilized company again. You’ve got an epic fail? You’ve got an epic tale.

The stories of our struggles are the ones that will get published, get a laugh, get a tear, get a friend to open up on her crappy/crazy/resilient/hopeful life.

I’m not saying we wrote about any of these things (Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t!) at the Westport Creative Writing workshops, which I offered the last three Saturdays of August 2011 at the Heritage House.

But even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you, because the rule in my writing classes is confidentiality.

I will tell you generally what we wrote about — in the first class, among other topics, we wrote about a safe place from our childhoods; the second class, we wrote about our mentors from high school; the third class, with Hurricane Irene on her way, we wrote about riding out a storm (literal or metaphorical).

At the first class, we had 6 people, then 3, and then at the last class, 8. Hooray! It felt great. There were so many brilliant writers with brilliant life stories. It was an honor to be a part of and facilitate a creative writing experience for non-writers and professionals alike.

I believe there is something healing and transformative about writing your life story. It is sometimes unbelievable, but never never dull.

I will offer these “Story of Your Life” workshops (inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book of the same name) again.

Next 3 Saturdays Writing Workshop

Excited to be leading The Story of Your Life at the Heritage House in Westport, New York this Saturday morning. At this community center, I’ve struck a yoga pose and smiled at the plein air art shows. All in one place, my favorite things: yoga, art, and, now, for the last three Saturdays in August, from 10:30 to noon, creative writing.

This is Dan's book that inspires the workshop, The Story of Your Life.

The Heritage House http://www.westportheritagehouse.com/ was once a federated church, Baptist and Methodist. Now it is a visitor center and home to a community art show, the title of which I love — The Spirit of Place. I want to build the spirit of place into the writing workshop.

The Story of Your Life is inspired from the workshops led by my friend and mentor, Dan Wakefield, who also wrote a book by the same name. http://www.danwakefield.com/ If you’re anywhere in the Adirondack region, please join me in this place.

I sent this blurb to some Adirondack newspapers so I hope we get a few people:

Write about your life — from childhood through the present day –- the small, quiet moments and the large, public events. In this creative, supportive, and fun workshop, you will discover threads of humor and meaning through writing and sharing your writing.

This hour and a half workshop is intended for the experienced, casual, and non-writer. ($10/class)

The workshop is led by Mary Beth Coudal, a writer and teacher, whose essays have appeared in the New York Times, Self magazine, and other newspapers, magazines, and websites. Mary Beth blogs about creative writing at: https://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com (that’s this blog, heh). She also writes about the spirit of New York at: http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/ and she writes a lot more than that too.

And now I’m writing this blog in the third person, the first sign of narcissistic tendencies, so I must stop writing and start reading. As the saying goes, enough about me, What do YOU think about me?