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What we attend to, what we love

butterflytree_smGood morning, good morning. It’s dark and warm outside my Oakland city window this morning. We’re having a heat wave in the middle of winter, which is all fine and good until the reservoirs run out of water. My candle is lit and the coffee (decaf, but still) is brewing. This morning I woke steady and restless, ready to write and also wanting to burrow down under the covers for another several hours’ sleep. Do you get like that when there’s too much to do and you want to do all of it at one time?

I want to apologize for being absent here. These days I am doing a lot of other writing, mostly (as you may have noticed!) away from the blog. I spend my morning-pages in the notebook, and then open one of several book projects and get to work at editing. Last year I generated hundreds of pages of material for these different projects; I’m now wading through those words, reading to see what I’ve got, how much of it makes sense, and what more needs to be added.

This poem is my mantra these days. I’m working mostly offline on writing tasks that need more than a single sitting to generate, shifting myself away from the fragmented immediacy of social media, including the blog. I have created a writing schedule, and am allowing myself to focus in and deep — because, well, let me tell you a secret:

Although I love and believe in and will continue the writing groups, what I always really wanted to be was a writer. First and foremost.

They say what you attend to reveals what you love. I set forth an intention, in this new year, to attend more to my writing. I have four projects I’m actively attending to these days: Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology (which I’m co-editing with Amy Butcher and Carol Queen); a book of essays and prompts for trauma survivors (and others!) who want to use writing to heal and transform; a novel about three sisters who have to learn how to relate to and trust other (and the rest of the world) as grown women in the aftermath of their stepfather’s abuse during their adolescence; and a collection of short pieces from the Coming Home project (about reembodying our erotic self after sexual trauma). There are others, too: a couple of ebooks about transformative writing practice; collection of things that might be called poems (but I would never be so presumptions as to call them that); a gathering up of the pieces I’ve written and performed recently about femme; and, naturally, new novel.

It’s a lot.

Plus, there are blog posts to write and edit (especially for the extra:ordinary project), emails, articles, letters of recommendation. There’re book and writing group proposals. There’s writing to read and respond to for my manuscript group, and workshop sessions to prepare for. There’s writing all around me, all the time. I am immersed. If you’ve contacted me recently and haven’t heard back, it’s because I’m deep in the aftermath of finally deciding that I need to get my work out into the world. This intention takes as much attention as I can give it, since there are still those voices in me that want me not to forget that I’m a fraud and a laughing stock, not to mention a terrible writer, and should take my fingers off the keyboard and go back to what I’m good at, which is helping other people get their work out into the world. Period.

So I go slow, and I focus. I don’t talk about the various writing projects very much, except to give their barest descriptions, until I’m well on my way toward completion. The more I talk about a story or essay or book, the more I lose creative steam for its writing. It’s as though, if I talk the story out, I’ve accomplished what writing would accomplish: putting the words into the world. So I keep the tension inside, and let it emerge through the pen and keys.

These days I’m often offline — after several hours writing and editing, the dog will need to go outside, and I have to shift to another way of being in the world. We go for a run, we go to the beach or up to the hills, we move our bodies. I spend time with people I love. I check email just once or twice a day. This is a good balance for me. I breathe deep, I stretch and move, I read, I cuddle. I sleep, wake early, light the candle, and begin again.

What are you attending to this year? What would it mean to give something you love, something that maybe you have been neglecting, more of your attention? Are you getting ready to believe that you deserve what you love, what has drawn itself to you in this lifetime? Rumi said, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” What if you believed that for ten minutes today? What would that mean for your writing, or your life? Give yourself some space with this idea in your notebook, and let the words draw you someplace surprising…

Thank you for being here with me, for reading these words, and for all you share with the world. Thank you for the generosity of your attention. Thank you for your words.

 

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justifying what we love

Hello, you brilliance you. How is this still-early day of the year finding you? How is your writing today? How is your heart? What do you want to hear about? What are you afraid of or curious about or reaching for this year? What creative or healing intentions have you set for 2014?

At the first Dive Deep meeting on Sunday, we laid out our intentions for our six months’ work together — folks are wanting to complete first or final drafts, generate new stories, prepare manuscripts for submission, reengage in daily writing practices. I found it difficult to choose one project to focus on — I’ve got several asking for my attention at the moment — but decided to make my novel the project I’d bring to Dive Deep for accountability and how do I even say this? My struggle around the novel is that it’s fiction, it’s a very long work, and for me to really be in it means stepping fully outside of my other work for a couple of hours at a time at least. The prompt I brought for us to write to at the beginning of the meeting was, “Why this project, why now?” Why do you need this book or story or practice? Why are you the one to write it? Why should it happen now?

I can answer those questions easily for all of my other projects — they’re related to Writing Ourselves Whole, they’re nonficiton projects, they are aimed specifically at helping others in their own creative practices: I can justify my time on them. It’s not frivolous for me to work on the nonficiton book about writing practice as transformation for survivors of trauma, or the collection of stories from the erotic reading circle (that is so very very overdue). But working on fiction? How is that helping the revolution? And (more immediately), how is that helping to pay the rent? How is that getting food on the table?

How is spending my time writing a made-up story worthwhile?

If anyone else in my life asked that question, I would just about hop out of my chair with all the thousand responses that arose in me. I would invite them to name all the works of fiction that have sustained them during times of difficulty or struggle, characters that helped them to feel less alone, stories that helped them to see the world in a new way or learn a new truth. Stories are what we have to help us make sense of ourselves, our lives, and our possibility. Each new story offers a new possibility into the world — and it can be a constructive possibility or a destructive one. Stories can teach us to be empathetic with others. It gives someone hope, or company, can undermine conventional wisdom, can remind us that this whole thing called living is wholly absurd and gorgeous.

Author Brad Meltzer says, in post entitled “Does Fiction Matter,”

…that’s why books get banned. That’s why they ban Maya Angelou and Judy Blume and Mark Twain. Because stories change us.

And the writing itself changes those of us who write, too, of course — reshapes our knowing, recalibrates our insides, heals us when we write about our difficult experiences (whether fictionally or not) and can help us even when we write about characters we invent out of whole cloth.

The books and stories that have been my closest companions through this life have nearly all been fictional. I have looked to the characters to help me understand how to survive, how to be in relationship with others, how to express and tangle with desire, how to make change, how to live.

Stories matter and impact all who hear them, be they “true” or “fiction.” We know that, right? I take a deep breath — no matter how many times I say it, it seems I still need reminding myself.

So, back to that Dive Deep meeting on Sunday: I committed to return attention to my novel, and work with her at least two hours per week. I haven’t had my novel date yet this week; there were emails to respond to, morning pages to struggle through, this post to write, an essay for another book to work on … there’s always a reason to put the heart work last on the to-do list.

Of course, if a workshop participant came to me with all those Very Important and Good Reasons that they couldn’t get to the work they say they love, I would direct them to this poem from Tony Hoagland, and this reminder from Natalie Goldberg — in order to allow our words to emerge, we have to make room for what doesn’t usually appear on our to-do lists. We have to write “novel” in our datebooks and then keep that writing date. We have to clear out room in the middle of all that Reasonable, Rational, Have-To, and Should that constantly clutters up the living room floor.

What are your creative intentions for 2014? What irrational writing project wants some of your attention? What space can you make on your calendar for the necessary work of creative life– invention and fantasy; naps; conversations with dogs and birds and bare winter branches?

Thanks to you for the ways you have allowed fiction into your heart and bloodstream, for the ways you both create and welcome stories that reshape and reconsider and recreate possibility.