Pigeons under the eaves

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.

 

 

Listen To Your Mother on May 11

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

 

Cupid hits an artery

Posted on March 5, 2014 | 4 Comments

This is what the index card that fell out of my notebook said.

Four words, and I was transported to a weekend four years ago that was a pivot point in my life. Now, I think of that time as my poetry colonic. For two days straight on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I purged poem after poem of my dead marriage onto the page. It was my birthday. Two months after my husband had moved out of the house. I was in that no-coherence cellular soup when the caterpillar has not yet reorganized into butterfly. And poems were my cocoon.

I was standing in front of a class teaching last night when the little yellow, weathered card presented itself with this incarnation of me. As I wobbled for a moment, I marveled at the alchemy of words. That a single phrase can be a portal to another time and place. A time capsule. Transportation. That a single page of writing can alchemize poison into medicine. That a scatter of words can organize a broken heart back into a person again.

Poetry has taught me how to think, how to navigate emotion, how to write, and how to live. This is why I am so fanatical about supporting your writing practice. Because writing is the best company I’ve ever found in the mosh pit of the heart—and in the trenches of life. The discipline of striving to align words with truths is the most powerful doorway I’ve ever walked through. And before walking through, I’ve spent thrilling, anguished decades fumbling with the key at the threshold.

Maybe the most difficult thing to understand in the early years of writing is that the high point of the writing life may be just there: before we get that key in the lock. Moments or days or years before we cross over to that imagined arrival point. It is the striving that refines us as humans and writers. And every so-called arrival is just another foothold into the mystery. We may pause an extra beat to take in the view, pat ourselves on the back, and feel the gratitude for how hard we’ve worked. And then it’s time for the next step. And the next.

When cupid hits an artery, we can simply write it down. And see what words come after that. We can trust the words as companions. They don’t have to be perfect or even good. They just have to land on the page, as we land in our lives. One foot, one word, after the other.

This is what makes a writing life.

 

Literary love for Portlanders

Posted on March 1, 2014 | 2 Comments

Poetry, productivity, prose, oh my. I’d love for you to join me at an upcoming event in Portland.

LIVE WRITING WORKSHOP SERIES
Finding Your Stride: How to Build Momentum in Your Writing Life // with Sage Cohen, Christi Krug and guest Laura Stanfill
Three literary leaders offer their most effective tools and strategies to help you find balance and move toward your goals. You’ll get practical support and encouraging guidance to gain unstoppable momentum.
JUST A FEW DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER!
Tuesdays: March 4, 11, 18, 25 // 6:45 – 9:00 p.m.
Rouse Portland
2512 SE Gladstone Street
Portland, OR 97202
Learn more and register

POETRY READING
Ink Noise Review
I’ll be reading with the luminous M, Dave Jarecki, Kristin Berger, and more.
Sunday, March 16 // 7:00 p.m.
Jade Lounge

2342 SE Ankeny Street
Portland, OR 97214

PROSE READING AND CHAT
Wildfire Wednesday with Sage Cohen
Help me investigate how writing can be transportation through transformation. Hosted by the magical Christi Krug. Followed by an open mic.
Wednesday, March 26 // 7:00 p.m.
Cascade Park Community Library

600 NE 136th Avenue
Vancouver, Washington 98684

POWELL’S BOOK LAUNCH EVENT
Launch celebration of The Night, and the Rain, and the River short story anthology from Forest Avenue Press

As part of a very special celebration of a very special anthology, I’ll be reading with contributors Scott Sparling, Joanna Rose and Margaret Malone.
Tuesday, May 6 // 7:00 p.m.
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W Burnside Street
Portland, OR 97209

Are you making enough mistakes?

Posted on February 25, 2014 | 4 Comments

It was a 5-star review of The Productive Writer. The reviewer had clearly appreciated and benefited from the book. She spent a paragraph saying so. And then she dedicated the second half of the review to venting about a typo that displeased her.

This fascinated me. Because I have come to see that one particular typo, repeated multiple times throughout the book, as a badge of honor. I tell myself, “I wrote a book! Yup, there were mistakes. Mistakes happen when humans make things. This is part of the beauty of it all. And, gosh darn it—I WROTE A BOOK!”

I was once the kind of writer who would have not forgiven myself for that typo. For any typo. When I was that kind of writer—an imaginary perfect writer—I did not send my work out for fear of a flaw. In fact, I did not share it with anyone, ever. What if my writing was no good? What if other people didn’t like it? What if, heaven forbid, there were a typo?

I remember the day when I made a decision that changed my writing life forever. I decided that good enough was good enough. That perfection was not the point. That sharing writing that mattered to me was the point. Connecting with other humans was what it was all about. And if people judged me for work that was imperfect, so be it.

This attitude was brutally tested when circumstance had me proofing my first book two weeks after my son was born. Having been awake for three weeks solid, I could barely focus on the page, let alone proof coherently. I remember sitting with that giant sheaf of printed paper in front of me, infant in my arms, and sobbing until my mother in law came and gently led me away from the table where I was trying to work.

Needless to say, I missed dozens of typos in that book. Maybe more. But who’s counting? In that giant, hormonal and sleepless tornado of bookbirth and childbirth in tandem, I did what I could. And mistakes were made.

And I wouldn’t trade those mistakes for the world. Because they are place markers of how I cut my teeth in my wobbly new incarnation as an author. They were born of the passion to bring forward the best I had to give to poets. They were stones on my path.

Have you made any mistake doozies lately? If so, I applaud you! Let’s celebrate them here together! If you haven’t, I dare you to put more skin in the game. Because without mistakes, you’re missing some very important vistas. Every misstep gives you a foothold into growth, compassion, and greater clarity about what you want and how to get there. Getting it wrong is the foundation on which getting it right is built.

* * * * *

There’s still time to transform mistakes into momentum in your writing life! Register today for the Finding Your Stride workshop in Portland, Oregon—starting March 4! Let’s make 2014 your most potent writing year yet! I’ll be teaching with literary goddesses Christi Krug and Laura Stanfill! Learn more and register. 

What is your writing identity?

Posted on February 22, 2014 | 6 Comments

When we are clear about who we are as writers—what we write, and for whom—we can create more coherently and productively. The tricky part is that people evolve. Life stages and life events shape us. The words we read and write transform us. And the company we keep mirrors us in ways that influence our path.

For many years, I thought of my creative writing and marketing writing as two entirely separate enterprises. Because they were. And I thought of my lifelong pursuit of personal evolution as something having nothing to do with my writing life. Even though writing was always my primary transportation through healing toward growth and clarity and authenticity.

Now, 30 years after I started writing poems in my pink suburban bedroom. 20 years after I started writing professionally. 44 years after my journey on earth began. My sense of myself as a writer and a human has coalesced. I can see and appreciate how writing poems makes me a more strategic business communicator. I can see how being a fiercely loyal friend makes me the kind of teacher that keeps people focused on their greatest potential. And I have committed to writing in service to others seeking transportation through transformation.

I have come to accept that the writing life is expansive enough to hold my many refractions, and that these all add up to the whole of what I have to give. Today, I see my writing (and teaching) identity like this:

Stories are the currency of life and business. I want to help you tell your stories in the ways that best achieve your goals. Whether you want to sell more, write better, or heal well, I can help you write the words that take you there.

The going wisdom for writers is: specialize. And as useful as it is to hone in on a specialty or two, this kind of focus runs the risk of missing the big picture of who we are as people and writers. Is your writing identity expansive enough to include all of you? Is there some dimension of your life that is always accompanied by writing that you aren’t inclined to think of as a “legitimate” part of your writing life? Are you living and writing by an idea of who you are that could use a bit of updating?

I invite you to sum up your writing life in three sentences right now. Then share them with us right here in the comments. Declaring who you are as a writer is alchemical. Knowing where you’re headed and what makes your engine go can make you unstoppable.

* * * * *

If you’d like a little extra support clarifying your writing identity—and leveraging this clarity to sustain momentum in your writing life–join us for the Finding Your Stride workshop in Portland, Oregon! Christi Krug, guest Laura Stanfill and I will be sharing our best strategies to help you make 2014 your most potent writing year yet! Classes start March 4. Learn more and register. 

Dear Raspberry,

Posted on February 14, 2014 | Comment

When I returned Noe
to the earth and she sent

her staccato of sweetness up
into the unending sky,

I was not yearning
for more than I was given.

Then the blueberries got
to chattering all along

the lattice of the deck and
you rose from your empty

decade, your margin of darkness
to reach a bracken arm in.

Volunteer is what they call it
when a plant chooses you.

I did not know how to be chosen.
You showed me how the husk

of an old life becomes a chorus.
You showed me receiving

could be as simple as holding
up my empty hands.

* * * * *

A Valentine’s Day reprise

 

It took this man two hours a week to change the world

Posted on February 13, 2014 | 3 Comments

The day after I shared my top 10 tips for micro writing, I met the poster person for this very triumph.

Mantu Joshi wrote to tell me that he came upon my book The Productive Writer at the airport, read it in one sitting, and by the time he landed became convinced not only that he had a book to write, but that he would be able to find a way to write it—despite the incredible demands of parenting two special-needs children.

The Resilient ParentAnd that is exactly what Mantu Joshi did. For two hours a week, for two years, he wrote The Resilient Parent—a collection of heart-expanding essays that speak courageously and generously of his own discoveries and insights about how to survive and thrive while raising children with special needs.

As the fates would have it, Mantu lives in the same city that I do. And his book launch reading was on a night when my child was with his father. I attended.

Mantu’s event was a reading and a benediction in one. There I experienced a man using language to transmute the greatest vulnerabilities and terrors of the human condition to grace. I do not have a child with special needs, but I am a parent. And I am a human. I wept through most of the reading, awed by the opportunities we have to steer our thoughts, feelings and our lives with the stories we choose to tell.

Clearly, I was not alone in my need for this book-length benediction. Within a few weeks of publishing, The Resilient Parent is already in the top 65 in the Kindle special needs category. This is a book that is already changing lives. Expanding hearts. Saving families. It is a book for parents of children with special needs, and it is a book for anyone who has struggled to find his or her balance amidst extremely strenuous circumstances.

Two hours a week, passion, purpose, and permission. These were the raw ingredients Mantu spun to gold. How will you change the world in just two hours a week?

* * * * *

If you’d like a little extra support creating and sustaining momentum in your writing life and you live in the Portland, Oregon area, join us for the Finding Your Stride workshop!  Christi Krug, guest Laura Stanfill and I will be sharing our best strategies to help you make 2014 your most potent writing year yet! Classes start March 4. Learn more and register. 

Productivity closes the gap between vision and realization

Posted on February 10, 2014 | Comment

We come to writing because we have something to say. And most of us spend the rest of our lives learning how to say it. In this quick video, Ira Glass talks about the gap between the impulse to create and the ability to realize our vision. He shares an insight that he says he wishes he knew at the beginning of his journey: everyone who eventually makes great creative work spends many years making mediocre work first. Everyone.

The most important thing you can do for your craft, says Glass, is to create a huge volume of work. Just keep doing it and doing it and doing it. It’s the only way to close the gap. I agree with him completely.

Understanding that honing our craft is a lifelong discipline is a valuable point of orientation. But I think this insight is not enough to keep us writing. We need to be very clear about our motivation, and to call ourselves back to that motivation when we get discouraged, lost, afraid.

If you think your motivation is to get published, I invite you to dig deeper. Publishing may happen at some point on the trajectory. But the validation of the outer world is unstable ground on which to construct our writing practice.

I started writing as a teenager because it felt like my life depended on it. And I continued writing because the quest to translate experience into insight became a kind of obsession. Finding the right language to liberate truth has been my primary quest in life.

Why do you write? How is writing essential to your happiness? How is it fundamental to your survival? I invite you to name and claim your deepest and truest and most vulnerable motivation. Write down your answers and keep them close at hand as you write. Living and writing by these truths will fortify your inner writer over the years. And it can help ensure that your writing practice is so essential to you that the obvious choice will be to keep writing and writing and writing. No matter what.

When you’re writing from the inside out, the act of writing will become its own reward. You’ll find the resources to commit to your practice for the long term. And as you see the gap between vision and realization close over time, you may find that your evolution as a writer gives you a kind of satisfaction that you once believed could only come from publishing.

* * * * *

If you’d like a little extra support clarifying your motivation and sustaining momentum in your writing life and you live in the Portland, Oregon area, join us for the Finding Your Stride workshop!  Christi Krug, guest Laura Stanfill and I will be sharing our best strategies to help you make 2014 your most potent writing year yet! Classes start March 4. Learn more and register. 

Master the Margin: Top 10 Tips for Micro Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014 | Comment

I was talking to a client of mine–a naturopath–about how he was going to make time to do some of the marketing writing assignments I’d given him. He was considering seeing patients one less day a week so he’d have a stretch of time for writing. This seemed at odds with his goal of growing his business–the reason we were doing these writing assignments in the first place.

I asked him if he ever ended up with free time between seeing patients. He thought about this and realized that though some days were entirely full, on many others he could end up with anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours free. I challenged him to sit down during every in-between time and do his homework then. I explained that it might actually be easier to tackle this work in small chunks over the course of his week. Sometimes a big chunk of time can overwhelm us and shut us down.

I know from working with writers and working with myself for the past 20 years that it’s easy to waste a full day set aside for writing. And it can be less confronting to actually fit writing into the margins we already have. This can help us get a foothold into those wider expanses of time, should we be so fortunate to eventually create such opportunities.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I’ve come to see sour grapes as wine. I believe that what most writers are struggling with–having only small slivers of writing time–can actually be the most efficient way to arrive at the whole pie. Because the less time we have, the more compelled we often are to make every minute count. Not sure this could work for you? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Waiting makes the writing grow fonder. Standing in line? Made it early to your appointment? Kids delayed after school? Make waiting time writing time.
  2. Insomnia happens. Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first book entirely in the middle of the night while having pregnancy-induced insomnia. I did, too. I’m not recommending sleeplessness as a life strategy, but when it happens, it could be because you have something important to say that’s trying to come through. Or it could be because you’re pregnant. But that’s another story.
  3. Love the lulls. No matter how hard you’re working at your job, there are always spaces in between the work. Whether it’s lunch break or you’re on the road to meet a client or the computers go down for ten minutes, make that time writing time.
  4. Set the alarm 15 minutes earlier. Yep, that’s it. Just 15 minutes. Protect that time with your life (or at least your pen) and write like mad. Before you do anything else.
  5. Quit something. Whether it’s a committee, a regular social hour, or something you do around the house that someone else could be doing, renegotiate that commitment. Put yourself first. Use those two hours a week for you.
  6. Multitask. I have been walking dogs for the past 15 years. I could look at it as taking time away from my writing life. Instead, I consider that time my most precious idea-generation time. The ideas and images that bubble up grow into blog posts, poems, classes, books. When you’re in the shower, washing dishes, on the treadmill at the gym–pay attention to what moves through you. And make sure you get it down!
  7. Lean into the discomfort. When something is happening that you’re uncomfortable with, put your writer self at the helm. Be curious about the pain, the rage, the blame–whatever it is that’s happening. This gives you a way of transforming the moment into something useful, and sourcing some of the grit of life for your writing.
  8. Make writing your baby. When the baby cries, you don’t tell it, “I promised so-and-so I’d do such-and-such. I’ll be with you in about 15 minutes.” You drop what you’re doing, figure out what the baby needs, and then you do it. What if your writing were that important? What if you sprinted toward an index card every time a powerful image presented itself to you, then took 30 seconds to write it down, no matter how inconvenient it might be?
  9. Be faithful to your muse. This tip completes the thought I started in #8. Once you know you can count on yourself to make space for what’s coming through (and your muse knows it, too), ideas and inspiration will flow more freely. When you have a practice of being accountable to your writing, you can trust yourself and relax into the moment.
  10. Appreciate yourself. No one but you will know how hard you’re working to carve out writing space. So it’s your job to appreciate every sliver of writing time you claim for yourself. Make a chart and give yourself stars, take yourself out for a drink, call your mother and brag–whatever works for you to take a step back and say, “Hey! My actions are in line with my values! I’m discovering ways to write in life’s margins on a regular basis!”

Sometimes, having a bit of structure, good company, and some powerful tools for keeping yourself on track can make the difference between writing and not writing. This is why I teach! If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, I invite you to join me for a productivity workshop I’ll be offering with literary leaders Christi Krug and (special guest) Laura Stanfill. We’re very excited to help you find—and keep—your writing momentum! Classes meet Tuesday evenings in March. Learn more and register.

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