Tag Archives: meridian writers

what does it mean to love a word?

Poem graffiti from Reykjavik, Iceland. Photographer writes: Good morning, good morning. It’s a bright day here, was already when I opened my eyes at 5:30, sun already pushed over the horizon, clouds cleared away, sky preparing to burn. The garden is happy for these bright, warm (even rainy — a miracle) days — but I’m feeling crabby. And not just because my period is several days late.

I am missing the dark these days. I need some hibernation time, a period of incubation — I’d like to write in the cave for awhile. If I wanted to wake into darkness, I’d have to set my alarm for 4:30, or even 4 — which means going to bed early, which makes these workshops that go until 9:30 or so a problem. But the workshops are winding down — and that’s bringing its own sadness.

This week was the last meeting of the most recent Meridian group, my Wednesday morning writing group. We had a luscious celebratory potluck breakfast: homemade bean-and-cheese dip (with homemade tortilla chips!), many fruit salads, yogurt, ripe ripe apricots, and a gluten-free apple-pear oven pancake. We ate together and laughed, and the writers discussed when they’d be meeting next — this group has decided they don’t want to stop writing together, and have already started gathering at local cafes to keep this good, supportive community writing energy going. We had time for a couple of writes, too, around all that eating. First, we wrote in response to this beautiful poem by Sade Murphy (what do you want your words to do?). Second, I handed around a bowl containing bits of the natural world: sea shells, buckeyes, a tiny pine cone, stones — at the last meeting of any workshop these days, I hand around such a bowl, asking the writers to pick the item that calls to them, and add it to their writers altar or put it next to their computer or keep it in their pockets as a reminder of the writing community they were a part of that is still supporting them, still cheering them on, still very much wanting their words. Then we made lists of five or so favorite words, passed those around to one another, and used those two things as our prompts. Here’s what I wrote in response to that second prompt:

What does it mean to love a word?



What does it mean to want to caress its flavors in your mouth?



What does it mean to only love it for its bumps and edges, the stun of its syllables, the way it turns the mouth into a playground?



What does it mean to not care what it means, just to live that it does mean — means something to somebody, has a place in a vocabulary, a license to belong in somebody’s throat?





What does it mean to want to know all the words this way — sibilant and labial — take hold of them between lips and teeth and tongue (caliphate, seraphim, cellophane) make the music that is the play of words and what lives beneath them, between them, inside and around the fringes of their precise lettering and (nefarious and globular and cloaked) texture?

I love the multiplicity of words, not the fact that there are more words in human existence now in the many languages we have enacted across geography and time than can never be know (graphite, asterisk, jocular, dose) but I mean how each word itself is also a world, is its spelling and the art of itself on the page, is its alteration in shape and taste over time, is of its origins, carries within its body the linger of breath of every human who has ever spoken it (sanctimonious, puerile, belittle, strobe) the word is what it means now, what it meant yesterday what it meant five years ago, two-hundred years ago — all of those shades flavor it still. And then there is the fact that you and I mean something slightly different whenever we say any word (the, few, handful, maybe, little bit, route, roof, left, slide, shelf, soul, recover, survive) — our histories with every word we know is unique, tinged by who spoke it to us first, who used it against us, what it meant in the place where we were born, what it emanate in the place where we began to become ourselves, what our mother’s voice did when she said the word, or Miss Johnson’s voice in our dim 4th grade classroom with the smell of playground sweat and chalkiest and those maps that pull down over the blackboard, revealing the metaphor of the world we’d been given to understand, hiding the math problems we hated.

Celebrant. Agitate. Wobbly. Repellant. Bombast. Every word is a light and a hiding, tethers us to some meaning and separates us from others, every word shatters away infinite possibility even as it illuminates — we hope — a particular, precise, pressing picture. Xylophone. Robocall. Vestibule. Celibate. Captivate. Fall.

What words are calling you these days? What words do you love? Where do you find the nurturing darkness that delivers you into the words you most want to write? Are you making the time and space to go there?

learning to listen to different forms of success

MissionFishes-711504Good morning, good morning. The sun outside is bright egg yolk orange, just over the Oakland hills. How is the morning finding you today?

I have been thinking a lot about success and failure these days. I’ve been caught up quite a lot in comparing myself to others who are more successful, according to our American standards: folks who have high-paying jobs, folks who own houses, folks who are able to travel wherever and whenever they want, folks who have money and access and what I assume is a kind of ease. Do you do this to yourself, too?

Here’s what came of this rumination at this week’s Meridian Writers group on Wednesday morning:

She has failed to grow up and become a successful business person. Every month she gets a magazine in the mail. It comes from the alumni association of her undergraduate college. Against anything that’s good for her, every month she brings this magazine into her house, sits down with it, flips it open to look at the faces of alumni who are achieving. Making names for themselves. Successful. Here are the politicians, the scientists, the social entrepreneurs, the designers, the computer programmers, the movie and television producers, the hedge fund managers, the actors. The writers. Every month she scans the list of books published recently by other alumni. she hopes not to see the name of someone she knows. She hopes none of these now-published writes graduated after her. If they are older than she is, she’s a little easier on herself: she still has time. She scans the personal essay section, to which she has once again failed to submit her own piece, the story she’s imagined sending to them for five years. Every month she undertakes this self-flagellation, looking at the faces of former classmates who now head law firms, run major organizations, made millions of dollars selling their ideas to Silicon Valley. She tortures herself with the faces of the just-graduated, the young-and-up-&-coming who already warrant press coverage for their achievements. Every month she reminds herself that she is a failure.

No matter that she runs her own small boutique business that succeeds well enough to allow her to pay her rent most months. No matter that she has a life full of color and laughter, morning sunlight, a cat who curls next to her on the couch and purrs while she writes in her journal. No matter she knows — somewhere inside — that she has enough, so much more than many: a safe home, a full refrigerator, lights and water and heat that turn on when she wants them to. She has a small garden plot in the community garden down the road where she can dig her fingers in soil, where she tends the fat hands of chard, tall cosmos and hollyhocks and borage and lavender and salvia, tends tomato and broccolini and a small thicket of herbs. Never mind the pots of basil and feverfew on her windowsill, the chickadees and house finches and goldfinches that visit the bird feeder she’s hung from the bottlebrush tree just outside the window near her kitchen table (which is also her office, also her desk).

They never tell her own particular kind of success story int he alumni magazine — about the thousands of students who left the college grounds and did not become standouts in their fields, at least not in the headshot-press release- TED talk- thought leader kind of way. Instead, some of those folks went out to craft small and beautiful lives that tendriled through the communities in which they settled, made home and family, or didn’t, figured out how to survive during the days or months or years when getting out of bed took all the energy they had to spare. They grew to know themselves well, if they succeeded at staying alive, and learned to listen to different forms of success: the kind that goes unreported except in poems, in novels, in glances with strangers across the subway on a chilly February morning.

It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others and come up short, negating the beauty and power in our own lives in the process. There’s an image that cycles through the desktop photos I keep on my computer. It reads: Comparison is the thief of joy (attributed to Franklin Roosevelt). I keep it there because I have to constantly step outside the compulsion to compare myself negatively to others — why are they succeeding when I am not? (Meanwhile, I never tried to succeed at what they are doing, which doesn’t stop me from beating myself up anyway for “failing”!)

Yesterday I thought, It makes about as much sense for me to compare myself negatively to those who went out and worked in the corporate sector or got law degrees or became programmers at Apple or Microsoft or Google as it does for me to compare a fish to a dog and then call the fish a failure because it can’t run on land and chase a ball.

Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” That’s what I mean.

I have had (am having!) an artist’s life. A successful artist’s life — by no one else’s standards but mine.  What an extraordinary thing to be able to say. I may not be as successful yet as I’d like to be as an artist, but I have absolutely succeeded in creating an artist’s life. When given the choice between money and time, I have chosen time — almost always. And so, rather than being caught behind a desk doing someone else’s work, I have been out wandering, watching the world, reading books, talking to cats and birds and city squirrels, putting my feet in the surf on a weekday morning. And I have written in cafes all over Northern New England, Omaha, San Francisco and Oakland. None of that time has been wasted. Not even the many years spent just trying to let it make sense that I was alive and had control over my own life, when something in me had believed my stepfather when he’d told me I’d never get away from him.

When the artist, the writer, finally publishes her book, the one that’s well-received, gets recognized, gets her that interview on Fresh Air, we look back at all the time she spent not making money, all the time she spent writing and paying for groceries with her credit card, and call it not wasted time but time becoming an artist, becoming the writer she was meant to be. Until that happens, though, her life looks a lot like ours (we who are not among the literary elite, or even the well-published): we make decisions others can’t understand. We write instead of going to parties. We go to bed early instead of going out with friends because we want to have those early morning hours for our writing. We write on our lunch breaks instead of networking like our coworkers do, the ones who want to stay with the company, the ones who want to rise in the ranks. We don’t care about the ranks — at least not the ones at the company.

We write because we want eventually to publish and see our names on the spines of those objects that have been beloved to us since before we could speak: the books read to us by parents or sisters or aunts or cousins, the books we took into our own hands as soon as we could. Those not trying to live our sort of life, or too afraid to do so, may not understand us. There are those comparing themselves to us, too, and coming up short in their own eyes, though it’s hard for us (at least for me) to believe that.

It’s easy to get invested in the story of failure. Today I’m working to look through other eyes, to step outside the ring of comparison (where I always get pummeled on the ropes), and remember that, as a fish, I’m doing just fine.


If you resolved to write, join us in 2015!

Did you make some writing-related resolutions for your creative self in 2015? Come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops, and bring those intentions into reality. Here’s what’s the winter schedule looks like at Writing Ourselves Whole!

Declaring Our Erotic: Open to all women survivors of sexual trauma
8 Tuesdays, beginning January 12, 2015.
Fee: $375 (scholarship/payment plan available)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find community around the complexity of desire, and transform your relationship with your creative self through explicit erotic writing.

Meridian Writers: Daytime, general topic writing workshop open to all!
9 Wednesday mornings beginning January 14, 2015.
Fee: $425 (Fees from this workshop help support Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find your center and write your story with a other writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. At the end of our nine weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of original writing.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins January 2015
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning April 6, 2015.
Fee: $375 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, January 17. Mark your calendars now for the rest of the winter: February 21, March 21.

Create the space in your summer for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

Another chance to write your story this winter!

Rockridge HeartsAre you seeking a space to write that will welcome the depth and complexity of your whole story? Do you want the weekly invitation to write and the knowledge that you will receive honest, kind and generous feedback about your words? Join us at Writing Ourselves Whole, and let your writing flow.

We’ve had to juggle the winter workshop schedule at Writing Ourselves Whole, which means you still have time to register for our survivors writing group or our general-topic daytime writing group:

  • Write Whole: Survivors Write, open to all trauma survivors, now begins Monday evening, February 10 (meets 8 Monday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm)
  • Meridian Writers, a new, general-topic group open to all writers, now begins Wednesday morning, February 12 (meets 9 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm)

Read on for more details about these groups! Contact me if you’d like to join us, and please feel welcome to forward this information to those you think might be interested in joining us.
Workshop descriptions:

o In the Write Whole: Survivors Write workshop, you’ll gather with other trauma survivors to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Remember: we’re open to ALL trauma survivors, and ‘survivor’ is self-defined! Fee is $350; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups.

o Meridian Writers invites you to join a new community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. New Wednesday morning group forming now! At the end of our nine weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of original writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee for our regular 9 week workshop is $425. Fees from this workshop help support Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.


No previous writing experience necessary! All groups use the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method. We meet in Oakland, near Lake Merritt, close to several BART stations. Space is not wheelchair accessible. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! To write with us, email Jen at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

I look forward to writing with you!

Follow your words — Winter ’13 Workshop Offerings!

heart vidaDo you have stories or poems, lines or images that want to find their way onto the page? Join one of our writing groups or workshops, and connect with an engaged and fiercely gorgeous writing community while you release those words onto the page!

Read on to learn more about Dive Deep (our advanced, manuscript-driven workshop), Write Whole (our trauma suvivors writing group), Meridian Writers (our daytime writing workshop for women) and Writing the Flood (our monthly writing group open to all). Continue reading