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.

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.

The Muse Will Show

The muse will come when you stop messing around on Facebook or goofing off on Twitter. Reading other people’s stuff sometimes inspires the muse, but the muse can be prickly, even jealous. Ignore your own creativity? The muse runs away. The muse doesn’t like when you spend too long working for other people and not long enough on your own. If you don’t care about your creativity, the muse won’t either.

This is where I am writing, — in a room with a window seat, looking out on Lake Champlain. The muse likes a room with a view.

The muse will show up when you let go of perfectionism. When you stop comparing yourself to all of the successful, rich people you get bombarded with every single day. Those beautiful people get to your muse. Those people are like vampires, making you run into your house and lock your front door.

The muse doesn’t like when you choose safety over the midnight walk in the woods. The muse loves to roam too and wants you to live on the edge of a cliff, not in the cocoon.

The muse will show up when you put fingers on the keyboard and wipe away the blank screen.

The muse will show up when you stop cleaning the kitchen.

When the muse shows up, it’s not work. It’s play. You just have to get out of your own way. Something, some brilliance — seriously! – will flow through you. You will sit back when you are done and go, “Wow! I did that!” But no, you didn’t do that. Not alone any way. You were the conduit. The creative spirit, the muse, flew through you and is now flying away because your ego — such a barking dog — chased it away.

And tried to take all the credit. But that’s okay; that’s the ego’s job.

The muse will be back tomorrow. Or later. But won’t/can’t stay forever, because you have to eat and go to the bathroom and chat with your kids and make dinner and throw a load of laundry in the washer and gossip about the neighbors and, don’t forget, you’ve got to pay the bills.

I know, as an artist and writer, I can visit the muse when I jot my ideas and images in a little notebook, even when I am away from my keyboard or canvas. I use Field Notes, a product. But I get no money (or respect) from Coudal Partners for this endorsement. Although occasionally, I swipe pack of Field Notes when I am at the Coudal household.

As Field Notes saying goes, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I want to write more about my prickly, beautiful, sensitive, strong muse. But I have to go for a walk. I have to stretch my body. I have to take my time. I have to let my muse fly.

This post was inspired by the Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that made me to take my muse seriously.

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Starting Anew

Elaeocarpus holopetalus - Mount Imlay Rainforest

Elaeocarpus holopetalus – Mount Imlay Rainforest (Photo credit: Poytr)

I have loved my job for so many reasons for so many years. Just because you love someone or something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it go. Like parenting. My kids want to go to camp or on school trips. I love them but let them go.

Without going into all the deets, my workplace has offered a voluntary severance package to everyone. And I’m taking it (effective within the next couple of months).

Sometimes work grows around you like a vine in a tropical rain forest, hitting the top layer and you’re still on the forest floor. Or sometimes work’s part of the undergrowth. And you’re reaching for the sky.

According to the internet, (which we all know is NEVER wrong!) there are four layers to the rain forest (and these coincide with where we are on any given day):

  • the emergent layer
  • the canopy
  • the understory
  • the forest floor

I think the point of life is to grow wherever you are. Life is only about growth. Or maybe the pursuit of happiness. That’s all.

And I need to grow. And pursue my happiness. We all do.

To such an end I’m starting some projects such as offering a querying and getting published workshop in New York on August 16 in partnership with Kelly Wallace who’s offering the workshop in Portland on August 18. We’re working on the website. We’re onto something.

We’re on the forest floor or the emergent layer, continuing to grow, starting anew.

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Revising

pages from my art journal

I love the creative process. I love the brilliant idea as bright as a candle flame. The revision process? Not so sexy.

I wish I could fall in love with rewriting. These tips for writers as they revise at Necessary Fiction really got me thinking. Here are a few useful ideas from the post:

  • write the plot on sticky notes then organize in columns
  • retype the whole thing
  • change fonts
  • make sure what your character wants is an impediment to what others want
  • raise the stakes
  • get rid of introductory clauses

I am in love with the short form. I love blogging. I sit down. Write for 20 minutes. Add a photo or two. Hit publish. Done! Go about life.

For me revising is endless. There’s no Done!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have two half-baked novels written during the months of November (2011 and 2009). Due to their unwieldy length, slightly more than 50,000 words, I can’t bear to open the first chapter. Just maybe if I set out the plot on colorful sticky notes or cut up my scenes with scissors, the story could emerge more like a work of art, a collage, than a mess of incomplete plot points.

collage – perhaps upside-down?

I have been crazy making collages lately. I get into a Zen mode and throw paint and color and images down on paper or on discarded library books.

Done! I love the haphazard process and the chaotic result. Maybe I could see the process of revising my writing as a visual art project.

As the blogger Matthew Salesses says, “a lot of these thoughts are about seeing. Remember: re-vision.”

I, too, can repurpose, rewrite, rethink, rewind, rework, and revise. Re-vision.

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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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Lose It!

According to this month’s cover Atlantic story, The Perfected Self, by David Freedman, people, including the author’s brother, have lost weight with the free app Lose It!

The application seems a perfect way to use social media to connect people around positive life goals. I know I have blogged (almost) every day because of the prodding of my online community of Catherine Flowers, Julie Jordan Scott, Kim Koning and Meredith Cardenas Weis at Post A Day (Week) Challenge at Postaday2012 on Facebook.

I have another friend who regularly documents the pounds she is losing on Facebook and she receives a ton of support (and a bit of unasked-for advice!)

The Freedman article is an homage to the psychologist B.F. Skinner who advised positive reinforcement as a route to changing individual behavior for the good of society. Alcoholics Anonymous does this for problem drinkers who seek sobriety.

I’m not sure if an app can replace a support group (or peer pressure). For me, one real-world application for this app is: Sure, I feel good when I work out — but I feel even better when I work out and other people compliment, encourage and admire me for doing so! (Or compete against me!)

I’m always bragging (complaining) to my kids — “I did Pilates and rode my bike to work today!” To which, they shrug!

I like praise for working out! I’m just not sure if an app will praise me enough. Will the app shrug at my efforts for health and fitness? I may try it and find out and document my attempt at: Running Aground, my health and fitness blog.

Write Your Spiritual Autobiography

I am proud (and a little embarrassed) to be the guest speaker at the Resource Center for Women in Ministry at New York Theological Seminary next Tuesday, February 21, 2012 from 4 pm to 6 pm in Suite 500 at the Interchurch Center. Please join me. It’s free.

We will be talking about and practicing Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop is inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book, The Story of Your Life.

Here is the sign in the elevator at work promoting the event!

I have led this workshop a dozen time and every single time, it’s different and the stories are brilliant. Seriously.

We write about and share how small, quiet, ordinary events shape our lives in unexpected ways.

Yes, the big events — the weddings, births, divorces, funerals — are important, but so too, are the ordinary days when nothing really seems to happen. The extraordinary is found in the ordinary. And we discover a pattern, a meaning — our own awesome-ness. We just need to take a moment to write down our stories and share them.

I am always blown away by the stories that I hear. There is a magical and healing power to writing and sharing your story. Just come to the workshop. You’ll see what I mean.

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.