Tag Archives: writing practice

keeping the promises we make to ourselves

good morning this morning. I have the candles lit in the dark inside office space, because I’m up later than I wanted to be and I miss the nighttime writing. How to shift myself back to those early morning hours while also having to be up past 9pm several nights of the week for workshops? Next week is a break week — no workshops while I finish preparing for the spring session — so I could sleep earlier and get up earlier, too. Let’s try it.

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Look out: freewrite is about to ensue. Where can I go with this in twenty minutes? What I miss are the early morning brainstorm writings, when you don’t know what you’re doing there and wonder what possible difference it could make to anyone for you to be making this effort — but you’re making it anyway. Last night I talked with my sweetheart about integrity — I recently read about a definition of integrity which referenced the fact that it grew out of words that mean ‘wholeness.’ She had heard someone define integrity as meaning keeping the promises that we make to ourselves.

If that’s the case, then I’ve been out of my integrity for a long time — or have I? Continue reading

the poetry of the soul’s home

(here I am listening to some of the brilliant writing shared on Sunday)

Good morning on a Tuesday. This morning is bright sun, warming my chilly apartment, is homemade oat & oat flour Irish soda bread, is a happy puppy settled into a sunspot, is the steam from the green and mint tea flourishing into the sunlit space before me. This morning is Cheb i Sabbah radio on Pandora, is time for morning pages at sunrise, is settling back into home after three days in Atlanta. This morning is Rumi and Minnie Bruce Pratt — this is a morning for poems.

What is this morning for you, so far?

I want to tell you about Atlanta, about the home-ness of it for me, and about a quiet Sunday morning in one of the last feminist bookstores in the country, and inviting a group of Atlanta writers to ease–through their writing–into their bodies. Continue reading

an externalized memory

stencil graffiti of a garden archGood morning from the house of crunch and panic. What’s the name of your house today? I’ve got the candles going, the tea all asteep, and got myself up early enough to actually do my morning pages. The pen on the page, the hand moving, the thoughts mustering themselves into order enough that they can fall into sentences or phrases or just semblances of particular letters: that all helps.

I’m in my small writing room that is filled nearly to the gills with old writing notebooks. Where does this want to go today? There are notebooks here from 1992 and 1993 — next year will be the actual twenty-year anniversary of my last assault, the anniversary of my decision to break contact with my stepfather. Continue reading

when it’s time for independence

graffiti of a pocket watch (the hands read just past 12 o'clock) on a green background with a bird hovering, seated, just to the upper leftWhat a good morning is this morning: lovely cool morning air that promises to heat up as the sun fully takes over the evening damp; a puppy who gets to run in the park grass, gets to leap high in the air for her ball; morning pages and candlelight alongside green-anise-cardamom tea.

What happens when it’s time for something new? When it’s time to claim independence from some part of yourself, to allow another part of yourself to rise?

Continue reading

how to fumble more often

graffiti of faces all pressed together in a tube, as the inside of an artery...Good morning good Monday to you — this morning there’s a good weightiness all around me; the world feels solid and maybe not entirely clear but present and necessary and open. The birds are a dawn chorus (thank you for that, Lucretia!), and the candle flickers over the words “Run your finger down the blackness behind my ribcage / make a puzzle of my womb / an alphabet of my fingers” (from the poem, taped to my wall, “Poem,” by Roberta Werdinger). How are you feeling your way into this Monday? What does the week hold in store for you? What are you carrying forward with you from this weekend?

A poem for today:

The Poems I Have Not Written
John Brehm

I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice

speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,

make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.

The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.

please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would

bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I

might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,

praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate

reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life

I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.

There is much–everything, it seems some days–that I haven’t written because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect. I have been thinking, recently, about the tyranny of perfection.

I misspelled tyranny as I was typing, keying it in as tyrrany, and the little wiggly red underline cued me in to my excellently-staged potential irony; I could leave that misspelling as a device, as a way to call you, out, reader, who would snag on that misspelling, almost assuredly, and want it fixed before you continued, thereby giving you an embodied experience of just what it is I’m about to continue on to write about; but I’m so deeply beholden to this tyranny myself that I couldn’t leave it sit there, that red squiggly line, that indication of my fault and incorrectness, that visible wrongness, so I went back and corrected it.

It’s one thing to say, and know (and we know, don’t we) that there’s no such thing as perfect and, simultaneously, that we’re all excellent just as we are, perfect in our imperfections, our scars and brokennesses, our fuck-ups and disappointments and celebrations and joys.

Fine. Yes. These things are true and my head knows the, but  then there’s the fact that I have so deeply internalized this idea of and desire for perfection that it stops me, nearly every day, for taking some first step toward a goal or a dream because what if I get the first step wrong and then everything else about each subsequent aspect of my pursuit of this dream is also wrong because I did the very first part wrong?

Tyranny means the cruel or unjust use of power. Tyranny can get internalized. We do it to ourselves, after awhile — we get trained into these ways of thinking that are fully intended to keep us from realizing the fullness of our potential and possibility.

Here’s what’s true: whatever idea I have, it always exists as perfect while still living only in my head, only as a fantasy. As soon as I begin to move the idea from my head out into the world, no matter what I do, I will imperfect it. Period.

What if I just allowed that to be true, and moved on from there? What if I took imperfect as my goal instead?

Here is something I wrote last week, at the second Dive Deep meeting of the second quarter.  The prompt was to grab one of the ideas from Bruce Mau’s “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” and write on it, or write the beginnings of our own manifesto for growth. (Look what it says right there at the top of that linked page: Begin Anywhere. The message comes to me over and over, and still I beat my head against wanting to do it right.) The idea from his list that chose me was, “Make Mistakes Faster.” Oh no.

Make mistakes faster. This is the hard one. This is five books sitting on the shelves inside me, unwritten, on the backburners of my brain and heart, this is the frozen aching, oh god what if I get it wrong? what if the idea was wrong, the premise is wrong, what if somebody doesn’t like the idea what if somebody challenges me on it and I don’t know what to say what if it’s the wrong journal the wrong publisher wrong agent wrong advance wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong? what if I just did it anyway, put out the ideas and stood behind them, what if I fucked up more publicly and more often, I mean what if I fell ass end up right on my face? My god, would I die? Doesn’t every single person know that we only learned to walk by falling forward, falling forward, falling forward? Why cares, now, the root cause of this fear of being wrong, of blueing in the face, this having someone who could say to me, you stupid girl, I can’t believe you would write that — ? Some days I would look at it and not believe that I’d written it either. But isn’t it true that most days, these days, I’d breathe into the insult, spine straightening, understanding, yes, exactly this is what I wrote and why? My tongue is working now. Some days I can fuck up. I have learned how to fumble without breaking my body open at its hinges just to offer my heart up as a replacement for the kicking.

I want to release this idea of perfection, this need to be and do perfect. I want to welcome wrongness more often, and with open arms, let the shame and embarrassment wash fully over and through me and then move on to the next step. Learn, grow, keep writing. This is my practice these days. If you got it wrong, change it, move forward. Begin anywhere, and then keep going. That’s what we do in the workshops, right? Just dive in, and know that you can come back to it later, change the beginning if you want, edit, revise, recraft, elucidate, concatenate, lengthen, alter — create the raw material first, then work with it. Do it wrong first, absolutely. What if I offered myself not just that permission, but that imperative? What if we had to do it wrong? What then? What brilliance would emerge?

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An idea for your writing for today: There’s this quote, What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? So, that’s one prompt, and a good one. Here’s a redrafting of that, though: what would you or your character take on if you knew that without question you were going to fuck it up, but that it was going to end up brilliantly anyway? Let yourself write into that idea, into all the ways whatever it is that you want to do will be wrong as soon as you start to do it — and then follow that writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for all your gorgeous, your breathtakingly beautiful wrongnesses. Thank you for the fierce risks that you offer yourself as necessary food. Thank you for your anyway writing. Thank you for your words.

what stays (part 2)

purple crocus with a bit of snow (shaped like australia!) at its baseThis morning I woke up at four with the puppy standing up right next to my head — I’d been in the middle of a dream, the only bit of which I can remember now involving times that were divisible– preferably by parts of themselves into other parts, like 2:42 or 3:09– and those times being more comfortable than other times — than prime times, I realized, when I woke up and wrote it down; interesting, no? I wonder if she felt me in REM sleep and wanted me back. Or else she just wanted some attention. This was going to be the first morning in more than two weeks that I woke up to an alarm — and then she thwarted that electronic wakening, thank goodness.

good morning good morning to you — how is this day holding you so far?

I snuggled my hands around the pup for a bit, then got out of bed and went to make my tea. I wrote hard for about an hour, letting words for this new project that I began in earnest back at Hedgebrook push down through the pen and onto the paper.

This is a thing that stays with me from my time on writing retreat — letting the words come when they come, making space and quiet for that practice and flow. Then, also, being easy with the process: I don’t have to force the words to come. There will be more time later for more writing; I don’t have to do it all right this second.

(This, as it turns out, is a metaphor for something else I’m dealing with in my life and body just now, and I recognize it as I type here in my dark office with the candlelight and the tea steam. Oh yes. Just keep breathing. Let it come as it comes, and trust that it will come.)

Another piece that stays for me is this desire for both morning and nighttime writing, and the different work I prefer to do at different times of the day: the mornings, for me, are best for this generative work, letting new material urge out of me. Afternoons I am excellent for editing, getting particular and crafty, making sharp or brutal cuts — midday light is good for seeing more clearly what fits and what doesn’t. In the evening I like to do reflective work, generative again, but with a different tenor from the morning writes; I have more of a synthesizing capacity at this time of the day, which meant, of course, that it was a lovely time for letter-writing. What a powerful thing, to get to meet my writing rhythms in that way.

Much of the work I did on the novel over my time on retreat I did using timed writing practice — I set the timer on my phone (which I kept on airplane mode for most of my time away, using that smart device for timing, for music, for pictures and recordings) for thirty minutes, then dove into whatever scene needed to be written. A couple of times I went through old workshop syllabi, looking for prompts just to get me kickstarted. These helped! The prompts is just a door that we use to pass through into whatever really wants to get written in the moment — it both does and doesn’t matter, I find, what the prompt is, as long as it’s one that I have some emotional engagement/reaction to, as long as it gets my pen moving on the page. I’d write for that half-hour, then take a break when the timer went off; stand up, stretch, heat up lunch or tend the woodstove or go outside for a minute and breathe that ridiculously clear air. Come back to the desk after, reset the timer, grab another prompt, write for another thirty minutes. There were a couple of times, too, when I didn’t break, when I was hard in the words and I just set the timer for another full half-hour and kept going, writing as long as I could, letting the whole scene come on out. Talk about a gift.

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So, a couple of ideas for writing this morning:

– What are your writing rhythms? How does your creative practice move through you over the course of a day?

– Grab an old prompt from here in this blog or your journal or anywhere else — take one you’ve used before and drop into it again. Let yourself be surprised by what emerges when you return to it, let it just be the doorway you pass through into whatever writing you most want or need to do this morning.

Give yourself fifteen minutes, or twenty, if you can. (Or 10 or 45; you know the drill around here.) Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for your words today; I mean that. Thanks for all that you notice and celebrate around you. Thanks for your generosity, your compassion, your breath.

(nablopomo #24) old fragments

Happy Friday evening — how is this early dark treating you? I’ve been mostly offline today, which is a delight, and makes my hands and neck and back and eyes so happy.

My project for December, which I’ve begun already, is to spend the time needed to go through old notebooks. Right now I’m tackling 2005 and 2006. I took a stack of 12 with me to the cafe this morning. I thought, Well, I’ve got a couple of hours, and, sure, I won’t get through all of these, but I can at least get through a bunch of them. After those two hours, I was just barely through one notebook — these are mostly single-subject, spiral-bound notebooks, of 70 or 100 pages. Oh right — it takes time to read that much.

These notebooks are mostly journaling, not workshop notebooks. It’s like revisiting myself, 6 years ago, re-meeting my obsessions from then, my fears and panics, and what I was doing or attempting in my writing. I took a hilighter with me, sticky notes, and a manila folder.

I’m making some changes after talking with my friend Chris  DeLorenzo, of Laguna Writers, about what he does with the writing from his notebooks — he tears out the stuff he wants to work with, and puts the pages in separate folders for each topic or project. Historically, I just mark up the pages, highlight or underline, label a sticky note with general topics or themes, and then I re-pile the now-gone-through notebook with all the rest of my hundreds of notebooks — and never get back to it. Today I tore out the stuff I want to work with, and that felt good — look, they’re not sacred tomes! You can mark up and answer back and even rip out for later use.

I can write later about what the notebooks have meant for me, how they’ve been history and an external memory, how this writing has helped me learn and remember how to remember. But for now, I’m just living into this change, that it’s ok for the sacred space of the notebooks to be different.

Here are a few fragments from the two notebooks I’ve managed to get through — these are lines I might use for new writing, places to begin, prompts:

I make every gate a pantry

How we have to be home in order to make something new

when I wake up late I feel like I’ve missed myself

How you wanted me to be is so much tar paper charisma

We’re more beautiful and then less and the truth is that I don’t know who I am if I’m not sexually engaged

When do you add anything to your life that you’re afraid of losing?

How we unhook from our pasts like we are so many trains, like it was nothing more than some external bolt that held us together

it’s time to fill up with new stories and in the meantime I keep on coming home like I’ll never be different

Something is crowing in me — something is open. I need to shower, decide on clothes, ease into the ache of today

This is the long stepping off of troubles, the star-spangled banner of my lips and thighs

The dusk is gaining old winds up for slaughter

Take back your body from the faces of time

Can you see the faggot dances of your glassine desire?

What we hope for and how long we go without it

A shoulder rub in the time of the rubble

We all have the things we’re willing to whore for

Dont’ you see? It’s a constant flux of semblance and self

The hard body of wrong knowledge

Write an erotic ‘I believe’

It is true that very often I am in love with my own body

I walk around on the flat side of crazy every day

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So, the prompt I’d like to offer today has nothing to do with any of these. Do you have a stack of old notebooks, or a file on your computer filled with journal entries? Give yourself an hour during this coming weekend, and go through that old work. Meet that old you. If you have paper notebooks, or a laptop, consider taking yourself to a cafe, getting a good cup of tea, settling in for a read. Underline the phrases or lines or paragraphs that especially call to you; mark them somehow for later reference. Let yourself meet the unexpected beauty, let yourself discover your obsessions, your curiosities, the questions that keep coming back up. Pull out the stuff you want to work with later.

(However, if you want to write, feel welcome to pull one of those fragments above, or one that you find in your own notebook, as a place to begin!)

Thanks for the space you make for your creativity, for all that you desire and deserve. Thanks, every day, for your words.

(nablopomo #11) 11.11.11 is magic and veterans (thank you)

pisces image, two fishes tail to tail and mouth to mouthGood morning — the puppy just woke up. We’re on a slightly shifted schedule this morning.

Here’s the nablopomo prompt for this morning: It’s 11/11/11. Make three wishes.

I don’t understand the magic around 11/11/11. I mean it’s a fun date, but it seems like there’s more going on for folks. I remember my college roommate, freshman year, lying on her back and waggling her hands and legs at 11:11am one day; she told me it was good luck. I’d never heard of that. The next time I was conscious of 11:11, I followed her lead, and felt ridiculous, but also a little bit hopeful.

I don’t have to understand to believe in magic and luck and possibility and synchronicity and wonder — I’m a Pisces, and that’s part of what we do. Believe.

Last night I pulled a tarot card from our Medicine Woman deck and got the totem of stones (snake). In the Medicine Woman deck, she’s replaced coins or pentacles with stones; in a traditional deck, this would be the knight of coins/pentacles. This card feels steadying right now, at this time when I’m both planning to grow writing ourselves whole into something bigger and more sustaining next year and making important changes in my creative life — being a novice Tarot person, I get from some of the interpretations I’ve read: encouragement to settle in to the (deep, underground) work, and recognize how every step I take is connected to a larger whole; digging in and trusting the work, even if it goes slow. And then there’s this, from the Medicine Woman book: Disintegration, death, and transformation are part of the cycle of life. The snake has always been the symbol of eternal energy and transformation, Healing comes by destruction and rebirth. The old skin is shed and a new one is ready. Life continues.

A new one is ready — not coming. ready. Here’s one wish for today: That I may continue to learn to hear and trust and attend to that inner voice of instinct, the one I had to ignore for years, the one that leads me in the right direction even when it’s painful, even when I don’t understand, even and especially scared that if I listen and attend, my dreams will come true.

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November 11 is also Veteran’s Day. This is one of my wishes: that all veterans of all wars receive love and abundant care every single day –all wars means those who have served in battle as a representative of a government, means those who fight in the war against women and children, means those who are survivors of the war against people of color and immigrants, means all survivors of violence, means those fighting in the war against the 99%. May all of these veterans receive the care and attention they need and deserve. May they all be remembered and honored.

There was a man shot last night in Oakland, near the occupyoakland encampment; he was the 101st homicide victim in Oakland this year. These are veterans of a war, too, so many of us don’t often remember.

The other part of this wish is that our government end all ongoing wars and not begin new ones — end the wars now and bring all soldiers home. If you care about veterans, you don’t wish to create more of them.

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I’m going to do some writer self-care today: after I post the blog, the puppy and I are headed out for a hill walk, we’ll have a little breakfast, and then I’m going to the cafe for at least an hour of notebook writing. It’s been some weeks since I had a long stretch of freewriting in the notebook — I want to be back in my body the way I can get when doing that work, and am longing to feel connected to my thoughts, to learn more about what’s going on inside.

Here’s a third wish, a selfish one: that there will always be spiral bound notebooks and rolling-ball pens. That there will always be exactly what you need, too, to do the writing you like the best.

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So you’ve got several prompt ideas for today:

– three wishes in honor of 11/11/11 — what would yours be, or your character’s?

– how do you or your character relate to veteran’s day?

– what is the skin ready to be shed in your life (or your character’s)?

– what does writer self-care look like for you?

Take just 10 minutes, more if you want. Write straight through, no stopping, no editing. Trust the words, your good words.

Thank you for your beliefs and skepticisms. Thank you for your ongoing practice in listening to and being able to hear the wise voice inside you. Thank you, each day, for your words.

(nablopomo #10) ready for the story they want to tell through me

graffiti of Ganesh, the elephant-head god.Good morning! I’m here again this morning in the chilly dark — it’s time for fuzzy pajama, warm and thick socks, putting the hood up on the hoodie while I’m writing. In the mirror across from me, I look a little like a monk. A sweatshirt-hooded San Francisco monk. There’s a Ganesha batik hanging on the wall just behind me, so in the mirror, there’s Ganesha’s eyes, and then below, there’s my bent head, face lit blue by the computer screen, everything else dark.

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After yesterday’s endless post, I’m going to keep today’s shorter. This morning I finally got back to my novel, put in 1500 words, a good re-entry. It was the first time I’d opened the file since returning from the Tomales Bay workshops. I said I came back charged to do more work with my book, and that’s true — I also came back a bit overwhelmed with how much work/rewriting/going deeper there is ahead of me. It wasn’t a surprise to me, but I got to touch it while I was there, touch the time and effort that was going to be involved in returning to some of the pieces of the novel I’ve already written and opening them up, pushing further in, letting the stories and scenes fall out. The pace, the storytelling: I have to slow it all down. This scares me, too. I like to push it all out, fast, shove the words past you, whether on the page on at the mic, and then maybe you hear one or two things that really stay but there’s not a lot of time for interrogation, for a thorough inspection. What I got at Tomales, what my writing got, was a thorough inspection. These 12 smart, strong women writers told me what I needed to hear: slow down, show us more, let us be in it. (They also said: we care about these characters, we want to read more. That‘s a pretty great thing to hear.) Over the last couple of weeks since getting back, I’ve felt overly confident about my book, and then terrible about it, and I haven’t been able to get back into the story — I’ve been scared.

The book, at this point, is entirely comprised of morning writes, the freewriting that I do first thing after I wake up. Sometimes in the morning I can get deep into story, but often I sketch out what’s happening, stay more in the telling than showing. During this morning’s write, I thought more about the feedback that we gave each other in that big meeting room at Tomales, the one with tables laid out in a square and windows all around looking out at Monterey pine and hills — over and over we said, show us more here; don’t tell us how we’re supposed to be feeling about the scene — show us the details, let us feel how your character is feeling through her/their actions, movements, what their face or body does, how they eat, how they sound, how they smell. Give us all that story and scene, and then trust us to understand without your having to spell it all out for us. Trust your writing to do that work.

Doesn’t it sound straightforward? But it’s so hard to go slow. This morning I pushed into a scene, dialogue and interaction, that I could easily have dispatched with in a couple of lines of expository prose: and then they talked and it was hard. I could have told myself, while I was writing, I’ll come back to this and explain more. But instead, today, I practiced the showing.

It feels good to be back to these women. I like them, and don’t like them, and am looking forward to writing with them again, now that I can practice being more open with and to the story they want to tell through me.

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Today’s nablopomo prompt from BlogHer is: What is your secret (or not-so-secret) passion? This is a guest prompt from Jean Kwok.

(Hey! I won one of the BlogHer weekly prizes — books from Penguin. That’s pretty great!)

This would be a great list-making prompt: take a few minutes and jot down your passions (or your character’s passions), both the ones that everyone knows about and the ones that you keep to yourself. Let yourself choose one of these and describe it to us —

My list might look like this: writing, reading, experimental cooking — and then I’d get stuck for awhile and look around the room. What else am I passionate about? Tall shoes? Yes. Being present with people sharing their words, engaging and believing in the power of their voices? Yes. Honesty around sexual trauma and sexual healing? Ok, sure. Any other hobbies or hidden things, Jen? Not much. In that way, I’m kind of boring.

I’m passionate about the beauty of queer folks. Am I passionate about the Midwest That feels almost like a contradiction in terms; midwesterners (maybe I should say white, protestant midwesterners) are uncomfortable with too much passion.

I’m a passionate romantic, which has it’s positives and negatives. The Mr. knows about these. I’ve been passionate, too, about survival. I’ve been passionate about drinking, had a love affair with alcohol that has shifted in recent years, and that’s ok with me.

The ocean. Ok, that’s easy. And the puppy. Can you be passionate about a dog? Is that allowed? City walking is a passion. Ethiopian food. See, sit with it for a moment, and the truth of us starts to flow out.

What about your list? Which one would you write about today? Remember, you don’t have to show the list or the writing to anyone — this is just for you, first and foremost.

Thanks for your passions, all of them, even the scary ones. Thanks for the ways you let your passions shift and grow, take up room in your body and then move through as your attachment to them fades. Thank you, every day, for your words.

everybody is a story

image of women standing around ironing tables, working and talkingThis is one of the quotes I think of when I consider what the Writing Ourselves Whole tagline (restorying our lives) can mean:

“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way wisdom gets passed along, the stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology, many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories once again.”

– Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, from Kitchen Table Wisdom