What are your tools and talismans?

Posted on May 13, 2016 | Comment

When graphic designer, illustrator, art director and painter Liz Kalloch invited me to be a part of her year-long Tools & Talismans story/painting project several months ago, I shared with her a photo of my most prized work tools and precious writing talismans—and wrote a short description of each, as requested.

Tools & Talismans

Choosing and honoring these precious objects gave me an enormous infusion of gratitude for my work, my life, and the intentions I bring to both. For example, I wrote:

HENRY Scrabble pieces: Henry was my soulmate dog. When he died three years ago, a friend gave me these Scrabble pieces that spell his name. They remind me that we compose our stories, our memories, our loves, out of what we are given. And also out of what is taken from us.

When Liz sent me a link to her finished work a few days ago, I was overcome with the beauty and tenderness of her rendering of my little collection of treasures. And I considered anew how much momentum I’ve sustained over the years by simply honoring the objects I keep close at hand.

That’s why I am now inviting you to do a similar inventory: What are your 3-9 most important objects that inform and inspire your work? What do they mean do you, and why? I’d love to hear about one of them, or all of them, here in the comments! Whether or not you share with me, I hope you’ll take a moment to look around at what you’ve collected and give thanks for how they’ve been markers, and maybe even jet fuel, along your path.

You can see Liz Kaloch’s full Tools & Talismans project and read about what the rest of my talismans mean to me here! 

I encourage you to “meet” the 22 other writers, artists and creators featured in Liz Kaloch’s project. I was especially delighted to experience Naomi Shihab Nye’s treasures.

Thank you Liz Kalloch for reminding me that a close study of the small and the familiar opens us up to the vast expanse of ourselves and our potential.

 

 

 

Making the Crossing: A Poetry Workshop for People in Transition

Posted on April 12, 2016 | 2 Comments

Hello and happy National Poetry Month! I am so delighted to be offering a free (with admission or membership) live poetry workshop this month designed to help you navigate transition.

Transitions can be powerful times of creative energy. And poetry can be a potent way to harness and steer this energy toward greater clarity and intention. I invite you to join me in the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon where you can meet yourself on the page in a safe and supportive community of writers. I will offer poems and prompts designed to trigger your own writing. Together, we will craft poems as transportation through transformation. All levels of experience welcome!

Lan Su Chinese Garden Workshop
Making the Crossing: A Poetry Workshop for People in Transition
Wednesday, April 20, 3 to 4:30 pm

239 Northwest Everett Street, Portland, Oregon 97209
15-20 participants
Free with admission or membership

Inspiration loves company: Meet Jill Kelly

Posted on February 2, 2016 | 7 Comments

Hello and happy 2016! It’s been a while, and I’ve missed you!

My blog has been quiet while I spent a good part of 2015 hunkered down writing my next book, Fierce on the Page. It’s coming to bookshelves near you in July from Writer’s Digest Books, and I’m excited to tell you more about that soon.

jill_authorIIToday, what has me totally jazzed is an introduction. I’d like you to meet Jill Kelly, a friend, colleague, author, wise woman and creative spirit who has become a very important person in my life in the last year. The more I know about Jill, the more I want everyone I care about to be in her orbit, too.

Jill is editor, author, and painter. She works as a text and developmental editor and coach for writers and other creatives. Through a disciplined process that she’s been cultivating since 2000, Jill has written a memoir, four novels, and two nonfiction books, one on creativity and one on sugar addiction.

I just finished Jill’s novel When Your Mother Doesn’t. The story immediately entered my bloodstream at the evening rest stop where a very surprising transaction launches the novel’s journey. Through decades of unspooling history, secrets, pain, and transformation, the novel showed me deep in my bones what becomes of daughters when their mother can’t love them as they need to be loved.

Next on my bedside table is Sober Truths, Jill Kelly’s memoir that tells the stories of how she lost herself through alcoholism and recovered that self in sobriety. When the memoir was a finalist for a prestigious Oregon Book Award for literary excellence, The Oregon Book Award judge had this to say about Sober Truths:

“Forget James Frey. Jill Kelly’s memoir of alcohol addiction and recovery is more believable and, arguably, better written. She doesn’t wallow in self-pity but gives a vivid and honest account of what it means to give up drinking and find the way to a new life. Much of Kelly’s memoir centers on what ordinary life is like after the treatment center and will be valuable reading for anyone looking to deal with on-going recovery issues that present themselves in terms of anxiety, loneliness, and self-doubt. Kelly’s eventual success in learning to deal with her demons is inspiring indeed. Her colorful self-portrait is on the cover of this book, testament to a resurgent creative spirit.” —Barbara Sjoholm, author and founder of Seal Press

Books get read when people love them and share them. And I would love to see Jill Kelly’s books in your hands and then passed on to the readers in your tribe. Jill has generously given me a copy of When Your Mother Doesn’t. If you’d like a copy, share a comment in this post about a book you can’t put down. I’ll draw a winner from the first 10 comments. And if you’d like one of Jill’s other books, she just might send you one directly! Write her at jill at jillkellyauthor dot com to learn more.

Happy reading!

An interview with Jordan Rosenfeld, Author of A Writer’s Guide to Persistence

Posted on October 23, 2015 | Comment

A Writer's Guide to PersistenceI have long admired Jordan Rosenfeld for her literary wisdom and grace. A powerful role model for persistence, she has three new books out this year, with a fourth on its way—and a long history of inspiring and informing writers striving to improve their craft and their practice. I’m thrilled to share our conversation about the recently released A Writer’s Guide to Persistence.

SC: Why is persistence so important in the writing life? How has it paid off in your own life?

JR: Persistence is the force that brings us back to the page when the doubts are louder than the passion. It’s what keeps us submitting in the face of rejection. It’s what allows us to tune out the voices, the competition, the fear and return to the slow burn that makes us write in the first place.  Without it, we give in to our all-too-human tendencies to hedge and doubt and procrastinate. 

I would have no writing life without persistence; I’ve been down in many a dark place, or up high on a terrifying ledge of imminent failure. After years of really building up my writing life, I thought for sure my writing life was dead and cold in the first two years of my son’s life (he’s now 7). Persistence is that inner wisdom, which Rilke suggests young Mr. Kappus must listen to in Letters to a Young Poet.

SC: I really appreciate your focus on keeping writers connected to their joy and purpose. Why do you think this is so important in the writing life? 

JR: I think that it may be more important for American writers, because we live in this festering petri dish of false fame and promise of overnight success. I’ve had a lot more editing clients in the past few years be more interested in getting a book “out there” than worrying about whether it was ready. In American culture, money and promises of fame are more alluring than artistic process, which can be a quiet, even invisible thing that brings joy to only the writer/creative. Yet I think that if you can’t connect to your joy/purpose you are far more likely to turn away from the very important creative voice inside you, or to do it numbly, joylessly, rotely, and I figure life is too short for that.

SC: I love your “work it” and “move it” tips. Can you share one here to give readers a sense of how you motivate and inspire? 

JR: In chapter three I encourage writers to create a “Writer’s Code” as their “Work it” tip. In this you ask yourself three questions: What is the value of my writing? What is my writing rhythm? (When am I at my best) and What am I willing to risk to take the next step?

Move it was designed out of my own experience that too much sitting really will kill you–it ruins your body and all kinds of research has now suggested that we need breaks. I also think that writers often forget to connect to their bodies, even though writing requires us to bring sensory imagery to the page. So every “move it” tip is designed to literally get you up and out of your chair; from as simple as doing a neck stretch to as dramatic as suggesting you try a new exercise class, to walking out in nature or offering to walk someone’s dog.

SC: Can you give me an example of an attitude (or writing practice) shift that could take a writer from immobilized to deeply engaged?  

JR: Frankly the one I’m finding the most successful in my own life lately is “start anywhere”–rather than holding yourself to an idealized version of how much or often you should write, just dive in somewhere. One sentence leads to many more, I find, and it’s usually getting started that is the most challenging.

SC: How do you think our ideas of success can actually interfere with our ability to write well—and enjoy the process?

JR: Most commonly I think that people rely upon external praise as a litmus for how well they are doing with their writing, which takes power out of the self and hands it over to others. At its core, Persistence is about learning to validate yourself by connecting to your writing on a meaningful, personal, and purposeful level–making a writing practice out of it, not a series of competitions you will either win or lose. If you always have writing to come to, to find refuge in, to make meaning of, and yes, maybe to sell and earn money with as well, but first the other reasons, then it really matters a lot less whether others like it or not. Ultimately if you love it enough, and stay committed to it, you’ll find homes for your writing. And then, when your own joy is already so deeply forged in you, and someone gives you a compliment, it will just feel right, and good, not like a “sign” that you should keep writing. The only sign you need to keep writing is that you wish to do so. 

SC: After they buy and devour your book, what other ways can writers learn with and from you?

JR: I’m leading two retreats with Martha Alderson (known as The Plot Whisperer). One, a Renewal Retreat December 12, in Santa Cruz, and the other, our third annual Writer Path Plot & Scene Retreat, May 6-8, 2016 at the Mt. Madonna Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. More info on those can be found at www.writerpath.com and www.jordanrosenfeld.net 

SC: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your work?

JR: Lastly, I just want to start a revolution where creatives and writers take back their power and stop waiting on others to do what your heart or spirit or muse wants you to do. If you wait, then you get more waiting. If you fear, then you suffer. Anything that takes you away from your writing isn’t helping you. 

* * * * *

Jordan RosenfeldJordan Rosenfeld is author of 3 novels, most recently Women in Red, and 4 writing guides, most recently Writing Deep Scenes, co-authored with Martha Alderson. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as: Alternet, Dame, GOOD magazine, mental_floss, the New York Times, Ozy, Pacific Standard, The Rumpus, Salon, The Washington Post and more. Learn more at: www.jordanrosenfeld.net 

More Like Music

Posted on August 21, 2015 | 6 Comments

We all need a line against which
to measure our wildness.

The park is cut back along the path.
I align my spine with the heavy bench,

send my legs out around your waist
as the sun heats a halo through your long black hair.

Today I can understand how the scientists misjudged
the universe’s color for turquoise when really it is beige.

The sun must have been streaming through the trees
such that the calculation of space divided by matter

became more like music. And when the rhythm lifted
like a woman’s skirt in summer wind, someone sang,

as you do now, of the sky being cleared by a good hard rain.
Then the universe compressed like two bodies dancing,

perfected with the pressure of exchange, until
the planetary percussion became a salsa.

Leaning into the beat, those men reached further
than who they were. Surrendered fact to abstraction.

They got loose in their laboratories, pressed to the truth
of the blue of turquoise until it was the only answer.

========

Happy National Romance Month and Poet’s Day! (Thank you to VoiceCatcher for publishing this poem in their third edition and for including it in their 10th anniversary anthology–coming soon!) Wishing you a day of true blue.

An audience of one changes everything

Posted on April 7, 2015 | 2 Comments

When you’ve completed a piece of writing, what do you do with it? Do you tell yourself something unfriendly about your skills or your poem/story/essay/novel/article? Do you let it languish in a mute folder in your computer or filing cabinet? Does your cat sleep on it? Do you revise it repeatedly until you’ve thoroughly exhausted the impulse that called this piece of writing into existence in the first place? Do you zip it right off as a submission for publication?

Whatever your post-production practice may be for your writing, I want to propose that you build in one, small step that could change everything: Share it with someone who cares.

Having an audience of one has been one of the most transformative practices of my writing life. Why? Because there is an alchemy in being witnessed. It completes the energetic circuit. It gives our impulse to share a specific place to land. It gives us a sense of context as a writer whose words are heard, appreciated, understood. In my experience, there is nothing more valuable than this intimate, singular transmission.

How you choose this audience of one matters. The most important quality in any reader is that they care about you and your writing. It’s also very helpful if they are a passionate reader of the genre you are writing in. If you’re sending a poem, for example, make sure the recipient loves poetry. This may mean that you have different readers for different types of work.

Over the years, Sebastian, Pamela, Carolyn, Allegra, Dale, Tom, Chloe and Nancy have all been readers and friends who have helped me understand what I’m doing, how it lands, and what it means in the context of what I am called to bring forward in words. I don’t know who I’d be without these kind mirrors reflecting back my tentative light.

In fact, it is largely thanks to Nancy telling me that she was ready to read my next book that I just signed a contract to produce it. Nancy’s desire to hear what I have to say about the writing life will be a centrifugal force that keeps me at my desk writing for the next six months.

Invite your audience of one to tell you specifically what he or she connects with, what interests her, what moves him, what she’s curious about. Even when a reader is not a writer — and does not bring any specific literary interpretation to the conversation, she’ll know if your writing connected with her or not. And this kind of feedback is invaluable.

Once you and your reader have made this exquisite exchange, let it fill you up a little. Let this fullness inform what you do next in your writing, revising or publishing process. Maybe you want to bring this piece to your writing group or post it on your blog or let it settle a bit or start revising immediately or put it in a sunny spot for the cat’s next nap.

There is no wrong or right here. There is just you, your writing, your reader, and the magnificent completion of having written and been heard.

 

 

 

Happy National Poetry Month!

Posted on April 1, 2015 | Comment

When a global community brings its awareness, joy, and poetry to a shared sense of purpose and passion, so much more is possible. I want to invite you to ride the wave throughout April!

Whether you have an active poetry practice, have been meaning to get back to writing poems, or have always wondered whether you might enjoy poetry, now is an ideal time to tune into the poetry of your life. Around the world and the web, there are endless events, communities and opportunities where you can connect, write, and steep in poetic possibilities. I’d like to tell you about a few.

To jump-start your poetic process, consider participating in Robert Lee Brewer’s poem-a-day challenge at his Poetic Asides blog. You’ll get a daily poetry prompt and have the opportunity to share your work and participate in a fabulous community of poets. Today’s guest judge is Matthea Harvey, one of my all-time favorites!

Want a deeper dive into the life poetic? I wrote Writing the Life Poetic for people like you who want to enjoy poetry more, tap that deep vein of poems running through us all, and cultivate a poetic way of life. Writing the Life Poetic is packed full of tips, insights, prompts, craft guidance and quick essays about the possibilities of poetry in your everyday, just-right-for-poetry life.

Special offer during National Poetry Month only: I’ll sign and send a copy of Writing the Life Poetic anywhere in the U.S. for $10 – nearly half the cover price, plus free postage. If you’d like a copy for yourself or as a gift for a friend, just email me at sage[at]pathofpossibility.com, and we’ll make it happen.

You can also sign up for my free, bi-monthly newsletter, the Writing the Life Poetic zine if you’d like ongoing support tuning into the poetry of your life—and getting it down on the page.

Another book you’ll want on your bedside table at all times is Kim Rosen’s Saved by a Poem. This book has deepened, widened and broken open my heart to a new capacity for holding and receiving the spoken poem. Read it, please. You will be so grateful that you did.

The Academy of American poets also has a great deal to offer throughout April. Check out their recommended 30 ways to celebrate poetry for more ideas about how to sustain a poetic state of mind this month.

Experiencing poetry in a poet’s own voice is such a powerful way to receive the gifts a poem has to offer. Following are three great resources for listening to poetry online:

And if you’d like each day infused with a single poem, consider signing up to receive a daily poem by e-mail from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. It’s free, it’s easy, and it is like a little gift in you inbox every day.

Thank you for your love of the written word. Every time you commit yourself to a piece of writing, you open the doors wider for the rest of us. I am grateful for your presence here at Path of Possibility and honored to be a part of your writing tribe.

How are you celebrating National Poetry Month? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

 

 

A path toward living well: Tuesday, October 7

Posted on October 4, 2014 | 1 Comment

In my adult life, I have had two parallel quests: writing well and living well. In the last decade, I have come to understand that these paths are inextricably intertwined. Such that writing well has actually revealed the path toward living well.

When my son and I were awake every two hours of every night for the first two and a half years of his life, it was my poetry practice that had prepared me to relax into my exhaustion, be present, pay attention, and even cherish the exquisite difficulty.

When the man I loved left me, each poem and essay I wrote helped me reach deeply into the epicenter of my grief, relax the grip of my  lesser emotions and eventually emerge into more inclusive truths and more expansive compassion.

I have come to believe that anyone who writes, whether it’s poems, essays, fiction, or even business writing, has the opportunity to cultivate courage and find their most authentic way forward. In my many years of teaching, coaching, and witnessing the trajectories of other writers, I see this principle at play everywhere.

I hope you’ll join us this Tuesday, October 7th, at the Willamette Writers monthly meeting, where I will discuss how the craft of writing can be a path of transformation. Together, we will reconsider the challenges, rejections and limitations that every writer faces as opportunities to grow more sure, strong and capable in life and in craft. We will explore how a commitment to writing well can be a powerful path toward living well.

A Path Toward Living Well with Sage Cohen
Tuesday, October 7th // 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Willamette Writers Monthly Meeting (October)
The Old Church
1422 SW 11th Avenue 
Portland, Oregon

Beginnings, Endings, and Everything In Between

Posted on May 8, 2014 | 4 Comments

powells May 6 1At last night’s launch of The Night, and the Rain, and the River short story anthology, editor Liz Prato was asked what makes a good ending. Liz explained that she teaches a craft class on ways to begin a story, but that each story needs to find its own ending. And she emphasized how difficult this can be.

I will hold myself up as an example of this difficulty. It was Liz who gently pointed out to me early on that the story I had submitted for this anthology didn’t quite end. I was exploring in this piece an unresolved dynamic between two people, and I wasn’t sure how to depict this lack of closure while actually closing the story. This is the beauty of a great editor. She can shout back friendly encouragement from a bit farther down the road and awaken you to the distance you have yet to travel.

As writers, we are tasked with the infinitely interesting task of deciding how to hand the story off to the reader to let them come to their own conclusions. And we need to leave them at a place that is resonant enough that they are compelled to do so.

When I found a way to leave the door of the story ajar for the reader to stand in its last beams of escaping light, the entire story settled into itself. This is that moment I write for–to stumble into a kind of alignment when the language and emotion and narrative all transcend their individual labors and for a brief moment sing.

But maybe even more importantly, I write to keep myself company in those moments, years and decades where nothing sings.

Stories, poems and essays have been my greatest teachers in cultivating a deep appreciation for the mysteries we will never penetrate. It is literature that sends its lifeboats out into the abyss of not-knowing. It is writing that gives us the illusion that we are getting some traction there. It is words that cushion our fall.

There is no grace like meeting oneself on the page. On the podium. Tracking the story to its end. Letting the great, eternal middle of our writing lives be resplendent in messes. Then coming together to honor the current of story that runs through each one of us on its way to the great waters.

 

 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely

Posted on April 21, 2014 | 1 Comment

A few months ago, I created an outdoor altar otherwise known as a poetry box. Here I make the most intimate and important offering I know how to make to the world: poems.

poetry box smallI started on the week of his 100th birthday by showcasing William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” a poem I have been living by since my 20’s. Next, at my son’s insistence, I shared one of my own poems, “Dear Reed Canyon,” in which my in-utero son appears. Since then, week by week, I’ve groped around for what I felt readers might need. Jack Gilbert’s “Failing and Flying” was gobbled up. Kaylin Haught’s “God Says Yes to Me” flew off the virtual shelf. And this week,  Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” seemed to quench a thirst the people of my neighborhood were having. In a few days, every copy offered was gone.

WILD GEESE
By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

*****
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, you can hold a poem in your hands and find yourself held by something more certain than fact. You can be welcomed as you are, in the incomprehensible soft animal of your body. A single poem can transform the way we feel, the way we think, the truths we live by. This is why, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hosting The Alchemy of Poetry, a reading featuring some of the most extraordinary poets and people I know: Sara Guest, Christopher Luna, John Morrison, Toni Partington, and Penelope Scambly Schott. We will each share poems we’ve written and read that have changed us. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, we hope you’ll join us—and share yours at the open mic to follow. 

What poems do you live by? How do they announce your place in the family of things?

 

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