the dark side of growth

Image by Brooke Shaden

I come before you this first Monday of October to say simply that I adore you and I am taking a break for a while from schedules of many kinds, including the Monday schedule for these love letters. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, as I’ll be back of course, it’s just that I take commitments and dates and plans to heart; I try my best to honor them. They are important to me, especially in this day and age where people ghost you without even a second’s thought. That’s not the kind of person I am.

The truth is I am going through some major and very personal transformations right now and while I am eager to share them with you some day in the future, I don’t quite have a handle on them just yet.

When we think of growth, we tend to think of something emerging — the tiny beak of a little baby bird peeking through the eggshell, the soft green stem of a rose bush busting up through the earth. But we forget about the part of growth that is happening deep below the surface. We cannot see the warm, silent, dark, wet world inside that egg, or the cool rich pressing soil cradling the seed deep inside the ground. But it is there, and it has a very specific and important job to do: it is the quiet, pulsing environment in which to cradle new life, to nourish new life, to bestow strength on new life.

There is a sacred part of change, of growth, of transformation, that happens in the dark. Out of sight. In the shadows. This is where I am right now. I don’t know what is to come. But I know I will never know the full breadth and depth and miracle of it unless I surrender fully to it. There is something about me and my work I need to learn in private before I can share it in public.

During this time, I thank you as always for your kindness and understanding. I will see you soon.

Until next time (because there is always a next time) I send you so much love & gratitude,

Allison Marie

P.S. Here is something I wrote recently about this change I’m going through. Perhaps a glimmer of what may be to come. Whatever comes next, I can promise you this: it will come from an even deeper love than I can yet imagine possible. I am afraid, but I trust love with all my heart.

“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”
— Galway Kinnel

is it time to let go?

Though it is just barely autumn here in the U.S., I have already found myself cozied up to more than a few bonfires on these recent cooler evenings. Bonfires in the chill of a crisp fall night, surrounded by the crickets below and canopied by the dark trees and bright stars above, are some of my absolute favorite things. The promise of change — bold, rich, deep, earthy, soulful transformation — crackles in the spiced smoke air.

Every cell in my body can feel it.

As if I am a collection of seasons myself, every year at this time I begin to feel the deep desire to let what is done be done, let what must die die, so that eventually, new life can begin in time. Recently this idea of burning the old to the ground has come up in articles and books I have been reading, as though the universe were reflecting back to me what is going on inside, helping me to make sense of this strange need to seemingly “throw it all away.”

After all, if you let go of everything you have created up until this point, doesn’t that mean it was all for nothing? No. In fact, it is the opposite. To let what is done be done is to dare to honor the full cycle of creativity: life, death, re-birth.

No one better described this feeling than a woman whose brave, difficult, critical and important work I have been following for only a few months but who has dramatically changed my perspective on the world around and inside me. Layla F. Saad is a Black feminist writer, racial justice advocate and spiritual thought leader. I could write for hours about Ms. Saad’s impact on me, and on the culture at large, but that is best left for another time and space.

What I most want to share with you on this Full Harvest Moon Monday is an excerpt from Layla’s recent essay, which she shared privately with her most loyal followers. She sums up exactly how I am feeling now, about setting myself on fire so I can start over. That letting go in order to move on is what is required of all of us at various points throughout our lives, and that does not mean our past was not vitally important. It’s just that what is done is done, and it is time to move on toward the next beautiful thing.

“Before the world sets me on fire for not living up to expectations that I agreed to because I was growing too damn fast and ignoring my heart, I’m choosing to slow down and set myself on fire so I can start over and figure out who I am, what I want and what my expectations are for myself. I am choosing to let who I have been and what I have done go, so that I can define myself for myself and move forward with an unshakeable foundation of clarity and sovereignty. And again, saying that does not undervalue or invalidate any of the work that I have done up until this point. But my heart says it’s time to take a different road now.”
  — Layla F. Saad

Sometimes what is next is deeper and therefore more painful. Often it is the most painful things which can teach us the most but only when we are ready to face them. I can feel that time is bubbling up inside of me. I sense the claws, cries, whispers, and possibilities of my own personal stories welling up inside. Stories I have never shared before. Because I was not ready. It was not time. But if it is now their time to come forward, I must honor that. That is the call of all writers always, to let what needs to come forward come forward, no matter what the reactions may be.

There is a secret wisdom in this work of writing which can only be revealed through the practice of doing the writing itself. By paying attention, by listening, by remaining alert and willing. After a while you learn to sense the turning of seasons. You can see it in the way the wind catches itself in the withering trees.

If I am to move forward in this way I must first take the time to go silent and search inward for the messages coming forward. To tune out the world and tune into myself. To burn myself to the ground in order to emerge a new season.

“That love voice.
She’ll help you find treasure. but she’ll guide you right into the minefields first.
   — Glennon Doyle

Are you feeling it is time to make a change of your own? Are there things you are doing that feel like they are dragging you under, that perhaps they would be better off let go of?

If you are going through this time of transformation as well, I understand. And I wish you well on your brave journey inward.  Burn, baby, burn.

 

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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.

 

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

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?

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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