Tag Archives: MedEd Writers

maybe I’ll do something with it when I get up

Albequerque graffiti of a tree with a pink and white, bent nearly to the ground Good morning! Whew, it’s been a minute since I’ve been here during my morning writing time — for the past several years, when the dark comes in Nov-Dec, I get very quiet and hibernate-y; all I want to do is be warm and comfortable and quiet. Slowly, the Mr. and I are creating warm spaces in a house that hasn’t been kept warm for a long time, it seems. Lots of baking sweet potatoes helps warm a house. Quiet, thrummy music. Candles help, too. And space heaters, thermal curtains. Rugs, too, once they come our way.

The other thing that happens during this time is that I’m less pulled to put words out — there are moments when I get tired of words. Does this happen to you? Words are among my favorite and least favorite things, and there are times when I am overwhelmed by their limitations, how very much language can’t do. Sometimes I need to put it down, rest both of us, me and words, forgive us for what we can’t communicate exactly right, or at all.

If I had more time this morning, I’d share more with you about this, which is kind of paradoxical, I guess. The Fall Writing Ourselves Whole workshops have finished — Write Whole ended before I went away to New Mexico, and Declaring Our Erotic ended just last week; both groups made up of strong writers who were ready and willing to go deep. I continue to be grateful. At some point, I’ll be able to write about how bits of each writer’s work (I mean, each of the several hundred folks I’ve written with over the last many years) will linger with me, become part of the literature of this life: what an extraordinary gift.

A prompt for today, and a write: Take a few minutes and create a vertical list of common nouns, like cows, mud, cat hair.  (If you like, you can also include proper nounds, like Dad or Las Vegas, and emotion words, too: joy, rage). Let yourself come up with a list of 7-10, and try to just write whatever comes to mind — don’t think about it too much.

Once you have your list, then write before each of these words the phrase, I have (or She/Ze/He Has or You Have) more than a lifetime’s supply of…
You’ll end up with 7-10 prompts, such as, I have more than a lifetime’s supply of postcards. Adjust the prompts so that they make grammatical sense to you — if one doesn’t make logical sense, that might be a good one to use as your writing prompt today! Let yourself be chosen by one of these prompts, and write for 10-20 minutes, following your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. (Remember, you can always change the prompts in any way that’s interesting for you, even ones you create: add a not in there, if you like: You don’t have more than a lifetime’s supply of…)

Here’s a write I did in response to this prompt last summer, with the MedEd Writers:

I have more than a lifetime’s supply of dust. It piles thick in all my corners, curling like waves, drifting and spinning, hoarding my dead cells, the dog hair, the garden dust and eyelashes and bits of killed bugs and dander and pollen and more — more bits and pieces of places and things I don’t even want to think about. I let it spool and crawl into clumps and plush, furred balls beneath my bed, behind the couch, or to the side of the old fridge, the one that only works most days and holds all of Cary’s beer.

Cary doesn’t mind the dust so much — except when it starts to encroach on his things, coating over his remotes, his game controls, softening the surface of his monitors, and curling like rabbit fur behind his table top CPUs. Then his face gets kind of reddish behind his long shaggy blond beard and he comes downstairs to where I’m curled up in a ratty crocheted afghan that my grandma made me the year I turned thirteen (which was more than a decade ago, of course, so most of my grandma’s blue and green pattern has faded to a grayish-tan) and he stands between me and our housemate’s big TV so I cant see who Jerry Springer’s about to bring out to abuse, and Cary holds out a rag and some spray can of something and says C’mon, Shelley — can’t you just clean up one time? He’s quiet, patient and furious and exhausted. I kind of shake my head and look around, through him, to the awful screen, til he pads away again, leaving the rag and can on the bottom step, like maybe I’ll do something with it when I get up.

Thank you for the ways you let yourself rest — and for the ways you pick yourself up again, and let others help. Thank you for your words, even all the ones you keep inside.

why it matters to write fiction in the middle of a busy work day

kitties are always in flow...

I still have a houseful of apples — and a freezerful, now, of applesauce packages. The goal for this weekend is to get a couple-three pies into the freezer before I leave for the east coast. Anyone have a good (aka flaky!) gluten-free pie crust recipe?

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So, yesterday I got to talk with Jianda Monique, who does the Lesbian Relationships podcast on BlogTalkRadio, about transformative writing and about the social-change possibilities of writing freely in community and about AWA and the power of a regular writing practice and the workshops and the erotic reading circle. (check out the mp3 of our talk!) At one point, I thought to myself, maybe I should stop talking about this thing (whatever it was) and we can get to some more of her questions; we must have about a half-hour yet, still. I opened the little clock on my computer and it said we only had 8 more minutes! I nearly burst out laughing — how’d that happen? We only got through about an eighth of the great list of questions that Jianda had come up with; I hope I get to talk with her again! (Check out her other shows, too!)

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This morning I’m thinking about the workshops at UCSF, with the Medical Education staff. Our first round of 8 weeks just finished last week, and we’ll start another round next month. What I want to talk about is why it matters to write fiction in the middle of a busy work day. (That is, assuming that writing fiction isn’t your work!)

I mentioned this idea of flow here before. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has several books he’s written about this concept. Flow is a sort of optimal experience that we move into when we are fully engaged in the task at hand (so much so even that we lose track of time), when we both have the skills for the task and are challenged to stretch somewhat to keep doing it, when we have time enough for the task and are able to concentrate on it, when we have clear goals for the task and receive feedback about our progress (either from the task or from outside others). Csikszentmihalyi calls these experiences autotelic: a self-contained activity, one that is an end in itself, that is worth doing because it is so enjoyable and engaging.

I often feel this experience of ‘flow’ when I am freewriting about something important to me (a story I’m working on or that I’m trying to find language for, for example): I will lose track of time, I have the skills necessary for the task and am constantly also having to reach for just there right words (which are, of course, forever just beyond my grasp), I have a clear goal (the story, the telling) and get feedback from the page (amount written, progress) and also from my internal sense of whether I’ve gotten it ‘right’ — I have also experienced this ‘flow’ when working on computer programs, playing around in html, gardening, reading, cooking…

I sometimes experience this ‘flow’ at my day job: when I can cut out the distractions (email, say, or other interruptions) long enough to fully focus on a learning and mastering a new database task, or when I can figure out how to accomplish something that would otherwise be tedious and mindless in a faster, more interesting way (say, only using keyboard shortcuts, or with as few mouse clicks as possible).

But often flow is hard to attain at work: we are, many of us, pulled in lots of different directions at every moment. Multi-tasking has been elevated to a necessity. We have lots of irons in the fire and every one needs tending right now — so we are frazzled and unsatisfied, often, at the end of the day, rather than satisfied with tasks successfully accomplished.

My vision for this workshop with the Medical Education staff is multi-fold (of course, with the multi-tasking still!), but one piece is to give us each one hour in the day when we can focus on one task: first we write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with our day jobs — we push into our imaginations, our creative selves. I’d like us to be able to play with words, instead of fighting against them, for a bit. Then we share our words with one another (if we want!) and receive feedback about what others liked. We leave the hour with a sense of accomplishment, I think: having created a new piece of writing that people honestly appreciated, and having gotten to really appreciate our coworkers for their work (instead of being irritated with coworkers for how they didn’t do this or that like we needed them to do so that we could do that or the other thing, which is so often the even-slightly-antagonistic undertone/culture at many offices, even if you like your coworkers!) —

in short, we get to experience flow for about an hour. And having experienced it for that hour, I think, we are more likely to want to experience it more often — and so we might begin to make changes to our workday (maybe clearing out time to be uninterrupted, maybe turning off our email and only checking it at scheduled intervals) so that this big part of our life is more satisfying for us, more enjoyable. That, I think, transforms us as folks at work, and as folks in other relationships (again, those ripple effects I was talking about yesterday with Jianda), transforms the possibilities of our lives, has us asking for, and believing we can attain, what will make us happiest.

So, yes, writing fiction (or freewriting nonfiction) at work — even and most especially in the middle of a busy work day! — can make a big difference in your other work. Can you take 15 minutes today for some freewriting?

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Yesterday Jianda asked for some initial prompts that I offer to new writers, and I  talked about an open-ended, open-hearted writing practice (which I also think is important!) — but here are some more specific ideas:

– Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and reach out your hands. Let one hand fall onto an object at your desk or writing area (wherever you are). Let that object, whatever you touch (book, keyboard, stone, phone, whatever it is) be your starting place — you might begin by describing the object, and then follow your writing wherever it wants to go.

– a variation on this is to choose a office supply on your desk, write for five minutes about what it is and does, and then write for five more minutes about what it wishes it were, what it wishes it could do. (We did this one at the first meeting of the MedEd writers, and it was great fun!)

– Take 10 minutes to write about your 11th birthday (and remember: you can write however you’re drawn to write about any prompt! if your response is, like mine would be, goddamnit, Jen, I can’t remember that!, then start from there!)

You’re fierce today, and every day, even in (and maybe most especially in, right?) your most frightened, wounded places. You were fierce yesterday, too, and I’m grateful for your presence and your words. Thank you for your words.

an exclusive reading this Friday — plus staplers!

image -- black stapler holding a tomato

This will make sense if you read on -- honest.

This Friday, Declaring Our Erotic readers are going to participate in a private fundraiser in Oakland for the Growing Connections mural project (www.growingconnectionsmural.com)!  You can join us!

Day/time: Friday, July 30 , 6:30-9pm

There’ll be food and drinks, all offered for a small donation, excellent mingling in a lovely West Oakland location, plus an intimate erotic reading!

Please RSVP for address — space is limited to about 30 guests!
Notes about the location:
There is a nice garden area outside with 3 fire pits.
The space is wheelchair accessible, however the bathrooms are not.
There is a big, furry cat who lives in the space. Anyone who is allergic should consider this.
This is a scented environment; all scents are natural, organic and from essential oils, however scent-sensitive folks will need to be aware of this.

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Saturday, Fresh! and I went to the beach at Bolinas, and I followed my urge to swim — I hadn’t brought a bathing suit, but I had brought a change of clothes, so I walked into the water, with all my clothes on, and swam around for awhile.  I still have sand in my hair, which makes for a lovely Monday morning, I think.

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Last Thursday was the first meeting of the MedEd Writers, a group of writers made up of Medical Education Staff at UCSF. We’re getting together for an hour a week, with the idea that 1) taking time out for a break from your regular work is a good idea, and 2) making space for creative engagement will increase your capacity for creativity all through your work day.

We are going to have a lot of fun, I can tell already.

Here’s one of the exercises I offered at the first meeting: I brought in a desktop-full of office supplies (sticky notes, dry erase markers, a rotary phone, paper clips, puffy manila envelope, folders, clamps, and many more). I asked us to notice which object was choosing us, and then we wrote like this: for 5 minutes, we described what the object is generally used for.  Then, for 5 more minutes, we wrote about what the object would like to be or wished to be used for.

Here’s my response to that prompt:

The stapler brings the paper together, it goes home in the crunching, it levels the playing field so no thing gets lost.  The stapler rocks in your hand, it clusters the diaspora, it brings the disparate together by force and sharp teeth; and the mouth is always open, it knows what it’s looking for, it brings home the bacon.

The stapler wishes it could be a rubber band, something elastic and strummy, forever changing shape with the desire and designs of the beloved, something that holds together with a force that doesn’t have to be pried open.  The stapler would like to clutch together a little girls pigtails, but every time it tries, someone screams and gets angry. It would like to clutch gently someday to a round pile of papers, cylinder-ing them into something you could look through, then unfurl, instead of hammering always with a force like the loss of hope, like it can’t trust you to stay together otherwise.

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This week is tonight’s Write Whole workshop, Thursday’s MedEd workshop, and a grant that’s due to Intersection. What’s on tap for you?