hellish thing

pretty young
hellish frightened thing.
you hold those dark
whispers in
one on top of another on top of another
until your whole life
erupts into one long
brutal
honest
blood electric
scream.

women are taught

i think women want themselves. we want to be fully ourselves.
to get to know ourselves before the shame, before the charade, before the cruelty, the confusion about whether or not we are allowed to be here.
i gave everything i had to men. my worth, my dignity, my body, my tears, my beauty, my health, my heart, my joy, my loathing, my terror, my most precious gifts, my sanity, my hurt, my insecurity, my creativity, my time, my desire, my mess, all my resurrection, all my death.
just gave it all away constantly because women are taught to repent for sins they did not commit. to pay for a debt they can never repay.
and those men? and all the insides of me i laid on the altar in front of them. they tore it all apart because the men
are taught to destroy all of the things
they do not know
how to feel.

i could see the sky from where i am

and it rained and it rained and it rained for hours on end and i could see the sky
from where i am
as it poured wet from
your hands
you keeper of the secrets
collector of tears no one could hear them cry
what is this you bestow upon us in these hours
when darkness covers the naked land
drifting inside of our hearts
washed and blown out
to sea
i am your little thing
wide as the cloud terrible and trembling as the silvercoin river snakes against the leaves
intimacy a hand in a hand that holds itself
that waits steady
for me

why i unfollowed my favorite writer

No Bold Villain by Pierre Schmidt @dromsjel

There comes a time when something helpful can become harmful for the same reason. Like having training wheels when you are learning to ride a bike, where at first those little wobbly wheels give you the courage and reassurance to get on and give bike riding a go, after a while they are not helping you but rather holding you back. If you want to ride with the big kids? The training wheels gotta go.

I also found this to be true for me when it came to writing in my own unique voice. When we first start out writing we are imitations of all the beautiful writers we ever found interesting. These are the writers whose prose made your mouth water and your insides electric with desire to write — to write just to write — in the hopes of one day becoming as graceful as your favorite writer is on the page.

This is a gorgeous thing, and in many ways it is why I want to offer my writing to the world: I want to awaken that desire in other budding writers.

But just like those rickety training wheels, if you ever want to write like a big kid, you need to let go of what is holding you back from finding you own personal power and potential. Ironically, those writers who helped you get started will one day be the ones drowning you out.

A while back, I found this to be true on my own writing journey. And I did one of the hardest things I have ever done in terms of evolving into my own voice, my own style, and learning to trust myself. I unfollowed one of my very favorite writers on all social media. No Instagram, no Twitter, no blog, no books, no nothing.

This writer was so beautiful and rich in her prose, so maddeningly talented that it pulled at my veins to read every single thing she created. And it dawned on me that to continue to follow her would have swallowed me up, would have robbed me of discovering myself.

This writer made me want to write from a place so deep I didn’t even know I had it in me until I came across her incredible work. But what I had to realize was that she was teaching me to dig deeper into my OWN INNER DEPTHS… not hers.

A subtle difference and yet a major one.

Those artists and writers we so admire have come into our lives because they show us glimpses of our own wild spectacular potential. For a while, we will try them on by way of imitation, however subtle. But when it is time (and we know when it is time if we are true and honest with ourselves) we must let go and believe we have our own inspired path to follow. One where those writers who got us started will fade to whispers while we take center stage.

 

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how to decide what to do next (in writing & in life)

If you have been at your writing, or whatever your artistic craft of choice, long enough you will inevitably face the following annoying (though, annoyingly important) question: so… what’s next?

No matter the milestone you reach — no matter how many books you publish or TEDx talks you give or exhibits you display or awards you win or tickets you sell or followers you gather — after all is said and done and the confetti is swept away and the empty champagne bottles are tossed a strew, eventually the quiet of endless future space will descend in around you and beg this one simple, maddening question.

Perhaps strangers will ask this of you, or fans or family, or you will simply find yourself asking yourself: so, what’s next?

Fear not, beloved, for here’s what. I came across an unlikely and absolutely brilliant answer to this question and it turns out that to actually find the answer we need to change the question. How terribly existential of us.

I follow the refreshingly insightful and wildly entertaining Ash Ambirge, author, CEO & Founder of The Middle Finger Project who has the cleverest, sexiest way of making sense of this inevitable crossroads. (I enjoy following successful entrepreneurs – and I’ve been watching Ash killing it for years – because I believe entrepreneurship is much like writing in that it is creative, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, and you are constantly trying things that may or may not work.)

In her most recent article, Ash flips the question from “What do I want to do?” to “What do I want to change?”

And in that nearly imperceptible shift in how you ask the question about where you are headed in your creative life, or your life in general, your next step begins to come into much sharper focus.

Because as creatives, we are change-makers. By choosing what we want to create, we create the world in which we live. So… what’s next? Well, maybe start at the end and work backwards… how do you want the world to be different when you’re done?

 

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where our best art comes from

image by Rimel Neffati

Happy Monday, my friend. Today is a holiday in the U.S. and I will soon be doing all the holiday things: sipping fresh coffee and reading lazily through the glum sweet gray clouded morning, boating and drinking wine in the afternoon, and curling up to a campfire in the evening.

But before I get to such delicious holiday things, I wanted to take a minute to share the work of an artist I cannot get enough of lately, Rimel Neffati. Her works (see examples above and below) are incredible, haunting, sheer poetry. I have long been fascinated by poetry of the word as well as poetry of image, there is a connection between them somewhere — there is some inexplicable thread that makes one somehow mysteriously like the other, though they are distinctly different artistic mediums.

I think that thread, slender as it may be, is silence. A beautiful image, to me, is robust with an other-worldly silence. It blooms into a silent place inside you, almost without breath or movement, and fully without struggle. It is an effortless silence which reaches out, hooks itself to you and draws you in.

“Silence is the only true poetry,”  I wrote in Luminae and I believe it so completely. We artists long to inhabit a silent thing, an elusive kind of love/pain/longed-for thing we cannot ultimately name. It is that silence, that empty space which begs us in constant to uncover the words it already contains, the images it already imagines.

Perhaps this week we take extra time to give the silence a chance to speak. We meditate, we disconnect, we unplug, we stop trying to force our creativity and instead we sink into the silence that is always there, behind everything, and just breathe.

image by Rimel Neffati

I have often said that the best writing advice I can ever give anyone, especially my beloved kindred poets, is to write from the feeling, not about it.  Do not be on the sidelines, do not be outside the house of your pain or joy looking in describing it, but rather be inside that house, inside that experience, deep inside. Go inside the silence, and write and create from inside that place.

Readers know the difference. You know the difference. When the writer or the artist is fully immersed in the secret silent world of feeling, what comes forth is the essence of that magical space beyond words, beyond images. A truly gifted artist becomes that silence, and then brings it rushing, gliding, humming, pulsing to the surface.

Poetry that speaks deeply to us, whether of word or image, all begins in silent space, in emptiness, in freedom. May we dare go silent and approach it with reverence.

 

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you are exactly where you need to be, in writing & in life.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, even if things are dormant or chaotic or over-or-under-whelming: you are exactly where you need to be right now. As in your writing, as in your creative process, as in your life. I know this sounds *woo-woo*, please forgive me if for no other reason than at least you know that I am aware that it sounds that way.

Sometimes my dad will read my weekly posts (hi, dad!) and this makes me overjoyed because my dad is the gentlest, most intelligent, strongest, humblest, most humorous, clever kind person you could ever meet in the world ever. like, ever. And he recently said to me (some version of), “Al, you know what is cool about your newsletter is that what you say about writing is true about life.”

And that struck me because I believe that very earnestly. There is not one single thing writing has taught me that I haven’t been able to apply to my life in general. This is why I write these little Monday love notes, because I truly want all of us to stay connected to our creativity because that’s where all the really juicy secrets are hidden. Inside the process of making our beloved art.

One of those life lessons I’m learning right now on a deeper level is that wherever you are is exactly where you need to be. Here’s why. It’s not cosmic astroscience (is this a thing?) it’s just pure mindfulness. You are where you need to be in your process because that’s where you are in your process. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you relax into the flow. You are where you are supposed to be because there is no supposed to, not in truth. “Supposed to” is all made up, all those expectations are made up by you or someone you know who wants you to be something for them.

These past few months, I have been writing much less new poetry. Over the past five years I was writing so much poetry it made even my own head spin. It was a prolific time which yielded hundreds of blog posts, countless words, and two robust books of poetry. Right now, I am in a different place in my process.  It is a time of creative hibernation for me. I need this time because this, too, is part of the creative cycle. It is silent, it is slumbering, dreaming, crystallizing. Artists, humans, are not designed to flower in constant.

In a world which hammers us constantly about being prolific, productive, to crank out more, more, more, fresh content, the next book, the new video, poem, design, the next best most amazing thing — it takes a great deal of self-awareness to say, “No. Not now. Not yet.”

No. without apology or shame is a tremendous declaration of our own humanity. We are not machines. We are not assembly lines. We are creatures of mysterious, wondrous, complicated cycle and season.

Perhaps that is what makes truly beautiful art, and a truly joyous life. Our ability — one season, one day, one work of art, one poem, one book, one breath at a time — to cherish where we actually are. Without cluttering it with “supposed to” or impossible expectations. Without crushing our minds with angst or our hearts with regret or our precious creative hands with burden.

So wherever you are in your creative process, or in your life, right now, please know you are in exactly the right place to do the work that needs to be done. Whether it is flowering for all the world to see or nestling underneath the earth and growing your roots in the dark, it is right and good and lovely. You are a cycle and a season, and there is magic in every bit of that.

Until next time, I wish you a week of peace knowing you are exactly where you need to be. There is possibly no gentler way to hold yourself with care and truth and presence and holiness.

 

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this is why we need you to tell your story

As I write this, it is so early in the morning there are still sounds of the night whirring outside my writing room window. It is pitch black. Crickets are chirping their low piercing cadence upon the silent dewy slumbering earth. This is my favorite time of the day to write. There is something especially inviting about writing ahead of the claws of the day. Your body is still warm and snug from sleep, and with fresh coffee in hand, you can crawl up close to the words because you’re ahead of the fear.

A good deal of writing is about fear and pushing past it to get to the other side to a more beautiful, more free place. Isn’t that what art is? What life is? What death and the burning threat of it, ultimately, is?

The further into my writing journey I go, the deeper I mine my own thoughts, ideas, projects, and experiences, the more I recognize fear as a guide. It is always an indicator — all be it a sharp and gripping one — of interesting things to come.

One of the fears that surfaces again and again for me is this (lame) limiting question: Who am I to tell my stories?  Why would anyone care what I have to say? Why do I care? The amount of mental and emotional capital I waste on jabbing myself in the ribs with this shaming technique is truly astounding. It cuts absolutely every beautiful idea off at the neck. It is a way of beheading a perfectly fine creative endeavor — that of sharing my experiences with the world — before it can dare open its imperfectly hopeful mouth to speak.

So this week I’m loving the idea of turning my big fear into big motivation by flipping the question from: Who am I to tell my story? To: Who am I not to?  

Who are we as writers, creatives, artists, humans, to hold back what we were given the tools and the gifts and the inspiration to offer? What else do we have, really, of any lasting value?

Maybe let’s stop killing a good thing before it even begins. Our writing doesn’t have to save the world or achieve massive wildfire success to be worthy of existing. It doesn’t have to matter to everyone else. It just has to matter to us. And we have to allow ourselves the space, the permission, to let the things we dream about creating come to life. To simply begin.

If you’d like to explore this concept further, do check out this article on OnBeing, by Elissa Altman, Writing and the Permission to Succeed: The Intersection of Art and Shame. Here, an excerpt in response to the all-too-debilitating question, Who am I to tell my stories?:

“‘Who are you to not tell them?’ a writer friend said to me. This writer friend — author of novels, memoirs, a short story collection — tells me that it is ownership, the acceptance of the fact that our stories make us who we are, that is the most complicated and treacherous part of what we do. When that ownership is withheld, we cannot succeed. When other forces say, no, that story is not yours, they have not only killed it and its place in your soul; they have killed you.”

We need your stories, dear one. We need them because the telling of stories is often the only way to own our lives, our selves. We need to tell our stories because that is what writers do, this is our work and our stories are the material. The telling of our stories is how we discover the many millions of ways they intersect with other people’s stories. This is the fabric of connection, empathy, collaboration, community, understanding. This is how we weave the past into the open palms of the present so that we can show ourselves to ourselves, and ourselves to each other. 

If you never tell your story the way you need to tell it, in your own creative mysterious voice, the world around you cannot grow any richer for it. And the truth is, this is all we have: the story of our lives. And none of this is permanent, none of it. So whatever it is that burns within you to create, whatever the story you have to tell, give it breath this week. Start today, don’t wait. Put it into a body, a body of art work. Watch. Listen. Let it amaze you.

In closing and until next time, I leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver called When Death Comes. It is one of my favorites, because I too want to know that “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.”

Click here to read When Death Comes by Mary Oliver.

Click here to listen to me read When Death Comes by Mary Oliver.

As I finish writing this post, the first little bird begins her dimpled singing outside my window. As if to say with full force and affection: the night turns into day, the day will turn into night, and all things will come and go in time. Write your story, tell your tales, give breath to your song, for soon enough, you and I will blink, and fly, and be gone.

 

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on art, democracy, & dangerous play

There are a few artists and thought leaders I follow and read regularly a few times a week. No matter how busy my days or how disconnected I may be feeling from my creativity, there are a select few people I turn to again and again to ground me and at the same time who expand my view of the world and my place in it as a creative.

One of these artists is Maria Popova, author of the incredible treasure trove which is Brain Pickings. The amount of sheer love in the form of magnitude of work she does to curate her collection of posts on everything from art to philosophy, from poetry to astronomy, from activism to mysticism, is astonishing. And such an incredible gift.

Most recently I’ve been taken by this piece in particular in which she explores the writings of Iris Murdoch, why art is essential for democracy, and the ways in which art makes us “not only human but humane.”

“The sensuous nature of art is involved here, the fact that it is concerned with visual and auditory sensations and bodily sensations. If nothing sensuous is present no art is present. This fact alone makes it quite different from “theoretical” activities… Art is close dangerous play with unconscious forces. We enjoy art, even simple art, because it disturbs us in deep often incomprehensible ways; and this is one reason why it is good for us when it is good and bad for us when it is bad.” — Iris Murdoch

It is no secret in my country, in the USA, democracy and freedom upon freedom is under attack. It is dizzying and maddening to say the very least. These are radical — sometimes, often even, inexplicably complicated and complex times — and one of the things that pains and concerns me the most is the attack on the truth. The eroding of our ability to engage in intelligent, respectful and respectable discourse as a humane society.

As a nation, as a world, as a global network of artists, writers, creatives, connected ever faster and with more and more urgency, we are losing touch with the essentials for growth, nourishment, deep thought, deep commitment to our soul’s purpose of truth-telling, no matter how painful or uncomfortable that may be.

I call myself a writer. Maybe you do, too, or maybe you don’t. But either way, we are all contributors to language, we are all users and shapers of words and ideas, how we use them to build up or destroy, to honor our common dignity or to pick away at it.

So not just this week, but these days in general, when facts seem harder and harder to pin down and the very use of language seems to be broken, splintered, desecrated, dismissed, and left for dead, I cling to the strength and wisdom of artists and thought leaders like Maria Popova and her work. She is an anchor, a pillar, a lighthouse.

We need art because we need to stay in touch with our own humanity.  To remain humane, to remain close to compassion, understanding, knowledge, humility and grace we must all be concerned with how we use language. What we say, how we say it, why we say what we say, who we say it to, all of these things matter each and everyday. We are all speakers. We are all writers. Writing this world we live in, speaking our way one word at a time toward a more brilliant or more cruel existence.

“Any society contains propaganda, but it is important to distinguish this from art and to preserve the purity and independence of the practice of art. A good society contains many different artists doing many different things. A bad society coerces artists because it knows that they can reveal all kinds of truths.” — Iris Murdoch

Until next time, I wish you a beautiful week ahead.

With much love & gratitude,

Allison Marie

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what my mother’s death taught me about life

This is a strange time of year for me. This week will mark twelve years since my mother passed away after a crushing battle with inflammatory breast cancer. She went so quietly, so, so quietly like the falling of the tiniest, slightest, softest feather nestling itself inside the green twilight blades of grass that spread out across our rolling backyard. Into the sun, setting as it was, slowly slowly that terrible, mysterious, awful, brutal, cruel, punishing, impossible day.  So quietly we could scarcely believe it. So quietly we could barely breathe.

I don’t know what death is, someday I will. Someday you will. And life is ever a stranger after the death of someone you love with the deep cells of your own body.  When you reach into the earth to bury the one whose flesh is your flesh, from whose bones came your bones, your hair, your pale skin, your skychild blue crystal eyes, the shape of your wrists and hands and legs and shoulders and the dimple in your chin. Part of your soul goes into the ground, into the cyclic ether, into the beyond, into the beyond to stay close and never ever leave your momma creature behind.

And so with her passing through to someplace you cannot follow, you become a new question.  How to live? Is there a way? Is there a secret? You are a collection of atoms always listening. You become yourself once removed.  You become yourself walking forward and backward at the same time, always somewhere suspended in a sliver of the universe you cannot reach or understand. But you feel it. You will always feel it in the back of your throat when you least expect it, holding onto the same tears you cried that day. The day she slipped into the air of that midsummer night, left us in the smeared heat of orange sunlight fading into black.

Those tears, they are of a certain water. The water shared by the ocean a mother is for her daughter: womb. arms. heart. blood. fear. comfort. mystery.

So I must admit I’m short on any kind of answers this week. I have no hold on anything, everything this week is fluid and about to change at any moment and for the rest of eternity. This week is an annual lesson in grief, living, healing, questioning, and letting go. I have no grasp on anything.  But when do we ever, really?

In a way, living through the death of a parent is like inheriting a whispering breeze which never ceases to blow across your mind, your days, your nights: live your life, live your life, live your life while you are in it.

And so I leave you with this poem by Mary Oliver, beloved poet that she is. It speaks to me, in a way, as some kind of creative answer to all the questions we ask ourselves, especially in times of heightened emotion, pain in particular: Now what must I do? You do not have to be good. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Maybe that is all any of us are here to do, for as long as we are blessed enough to do it.

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 clear 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.

Until next time, I send you so much love and affection,

Allison Marie

Receive weekly creative inspiration by clicking here to sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll catch you on Mondays.  ❤