Posted on October 23, 2015 | Comment
I 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 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
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.
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.
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.
Posted on February 16, 2015 | Comment
During the year I was divorcing, I staggered from day to night to day with no joy, no sense of anticipation, no hope. I saw my not-yet-ex-husband as a villain. Our entire arrangement felt profoundly unfair, with the great majority of our family’s practical and financial responsibilities on my shoulders.
Then, one day on a dog walk, I saw a gaggle of geese lifting off together in their symmetry of belonging. As they left a glittering ripple over the still water reflecting their unison of flight, I understood that I had a choice. I decided that I did not need to admire my co-parent to be happy. Things between us did not need to be fair for me to be happy. I did not need to be well-rested to be happy. In fact, suddenly there were no contingencies that I could think of to happiness. This changed everything.
Whenever I started wandering off center into the stories that keep me hooked on rage and blame, I called myself back. Again. And again. And again. Each time, I told myself a new, more accurate story: I can be happy right now, no matter what’s happening my life. Until eventually I trusted with every cell in my body that no one can give or take my happiness. It is my deep well, my wealth. My morning sky, with room enough for all take-offs and landings.
The happier I got, the more my co-parent collaboration came into balance. I began to genuinely like Pete again and he began to enthusiastically step up in ways I could thoroughly appreciate. As it turned out, the dependencies were in reverse. I thought I needed certain circumstances to be happy. But it was happiness that made the ground of our family fertile for those circumstances to take hold.
As it turned out, changing my story changed everything: my feelings, my experience of my co-parent, and our entire family dynamic. And it inspired the launch of my Radical Divorce project, where I support parents in steering their stories toward the greater good of everyone in the family.
As writers, we are especially well equipped to tell and retell our stories until they are propelling us into the lives we want to live. Are there any inner narratives you are ready to let go? Or reinvent? What are your stories teaching you about who you are and how you intend to live?
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
Posted on May 8, 2014 | 4 Comments
At 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.
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.
I 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.
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?
Posted on March 28, 2014 | Comment
At each elbow, I am flanked by cats as I sit propped on pillows in bed. Alongside the base of my bed, my beloved old dog lies facing out toward anything she might need to defend us from. On her dog bed, a cat curled tight into the dog-made center dent.
Sleep has been so difficult for me in recent years. And sometimes, simply taking in the imagery of my fuzzy companions at rest helps soften me for sleep.
Above my head and out of reach, another family is settling into its own silences on the other side of my wall, under the eaves of my roof. Scrap by scrap, two pigeons have entwined their sleep with mine, their hopes with mine, their future with mine.
In my mid-20’s while living in New York City, I fell in love with pigeons. Some might argue that this was because, during the only two pet-free years of my adult life, pigeons were the only creatures available to me to love. But I think what it is for me is this: pigeons seem to have defined the standard for making the best of what comes. A pigeon can make a life of sidewalk and tar, after all. They are willing live on our scraps. To make rainbows of oil. And isn’t this what the writer does?
Pigeons remind me that you can take the worn out tatters of anything and weave it into something new and extraordinary. And this skill can change the world. By nurturing one small thing and giving it flight. Even when no one is telling you that you are special, or noticing you at all.
There is beauty in this world that only you can bring forward. Pigeons are born knowing this, and they go about their ordinary bird lives without fanfare, certain they belong, distilling experience to nest when the time comes. You can, too.
What kind of nest are you weaving? Who will tuck in with you there? What future are you warming up to liftoff under that sure and powerful wing?
My body settles into its innate belonging in this chorus of bodies curling up inside a blanket of night. Under the eaves, we sleep.
Posted on March 6, 2014 | 1 Comment
On May 11, Listen To Your Mother will be “giving motherhood a microphone” through a series of live stage readings in 32 cities nationwide in celebration of Mother’s Day.
I’m so excited to be reading in Portland’s inaugural event with an all-star cast of 12 women exploring the hilarity, heartbreak and humility of motherhood. (Much to my own mother’s disappointment, the stories are not necessarily literally about how we have listened to our mothers.)
Come join us in the mommy mosh pit on May 11, 2014 at 2 p.m., won’t you? Tickets are going fast. Get yours at Alberta Rose Theatre online.
keep looking »