forget about passion (& follow this instead)

As I sit down to write this, it is pouring sweet earthy summer rain outside my writing room window. The sky is wild and electric with sharp slams of thunder and jagged streaks of lightning. This weather, this darkened gray stormy weather, is my absolute favorite. Which can only mean we are off to a splendid week ahead. 🙂

I came across so many treasures in the past week. Each made me think more broadly about how culture affects our creative minds, look at my writing in interesting new ways, and challenged my assumptions about what art does for the artist as well as the observer. Here are my top three finds…

1. This article by Megan Abbott about Sylvia Plath and female rage. This is a topic that fascinates me. In countless ways, our culture perpetuates the outrageous idea that women are not supposed to feel anger, let alone express it.  Abbott references Sylvia Plath’s final collection of poems written just before her tragic suicide, Ariel. The poetry in this book burns, it spits, it bites, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.  In her signature cool, measured, sinister manner, Plath confronts and disarms at once.

“What mattered was that I—this well-behaved, compliant young woman—was writing from deeper, darker places, reservoirs of anger and frustration I’d always denied were there.” — Megan Abbott from her article in The Millions, A Mad Woman on Fire: On Sylvia Plath & Female Rage

2. Austin Kleon wrote a thoroughly interesting article Ideas in Cars, Honking, in which he introduces Brian Eno’s ideas about the balance one needs in creativity between surrender and control. He likens the concept to surfing, in the sense that one needs to have the skills (control) to perform the act of surfing, but also— and just as importantly— needs to know when to let go of control and surrender to the rhythm of the waves, to roll with their natural movement. Eno argues that in much of our art we have become too obsessed with control, and we need to focus more on surrender.

“Control and surrender have to be kept in balance. That’s what surfers do – take control of the situation, then be carried, then take control. In the last few thousand years, we’ve become incredibly adept technically. We’ve treasured the controlling part of ourselves and neglected the surrendering part.”
Eno considers all his recent art to be a rebuttal to this attitude. “I want to rethink surrender as an active verb,” he says. “It’s not just you being escapist; it’s an active choice. I’m not saying we’ve got to stop being such controlling beings. I’m not saying we’ve got to be back-to-the-earth hippies. I’m saying something more complex.”
3. This may just be my favorite interview with Liz Gilbert ever.  Here she speaks with the brilliant Krista Tippett in On Being, about forgetting passion, and choosing curiosity over fear instead.
“And it’s a little bit like — gosh, I mean, even the word, “passion,”
has this sort of sexual connotation that you’re — I’m much more interested in intimacy and in growing a relationship, than everything has to be setting your head on fire. And curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly, and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you. And it may not set your head on fire; it may not change your life; it may not change the world; it may not even line up with previous things that you’ve done or been interested in. It may seem very random and make no sense. And I think the reason people end up not following their curiosity is because they’re waiting for a bigger sign, and your curiosities, sometimes, are so mild and so strange and so, almost, nothing — it’s a little trail of breadcrumbs that you can overlook if you’re looking up at the mountaintop, waiting for Moses to come down and give you a sign from God.”

And so there you have it, my friend. A little snapshot of the artists and ideas that have kept me going this week. Until next time, I wish you an inspired week ahead, and thunder and lightning and coffee and books and charm.

With so much love and gratitude,

Allison Marie

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“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.” – Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Want killer writing? STOP doing this.

It’s okay, I do it, too.  Even the most seasoned writers admit that they have to remind themselves over and over at the beginning of any writing project or piece how to start fresh. Each time we sit down to write is a new beginning and this is at once frightening and freeing. But the one thing we must stop doing if we want writing that is real, vulnerable, dangerous, true, meaningful and pulsing with delicious energy is being so damn polite.

Now then, I’m not suggesting you march out into the village square (village square?) and start screaming obscenities at innocent women and children, but what I am saying is we need to follow the forthcoming advice to the letter if we want to get anywhere worth going in our writing. In the brilliant and timeless treasure titled Writing Down the Bones, author Natalie Goldberg shares the secret to “burning through to first thoughts” which are “the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel.”

The idea is that what lives on the surface of our manic minds are actually third and fourth thoughts, the things we layer on top of our true thoughts and feelings in order to make them more polite or socially acceptable. But the good writing—the beautifully dangerous, cutting edge, electric writing—comes from first thoughts. The thoughts that live closest to the bone.

So this week I’m challenging myself to follow these 6 rules from Writing Down the Bones for getting at my juiciest stuff. Are you up for it, too?  Cool, here we go:

This is the kind of writing I believe we need to get back to in our regular practice. The first thoughts, the ego-less raw truth of what we think and feel. My suspicion is that there is one thing that keeps us from really delving in and that is that we are terrified that whatever we put down, we are forever. That if we write something that scares us because it is so real then we cannot recover and move on from it.

But as Ms. Goldberg would also have us remember: we are not the poem. 

“There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.”

In that same vein, I love it when a lesson comes full circle and you start to see signs of its truth around you almost everywhere. As I was contemplating this idea of burning past being so polite in censoring my own first thoughts and feelings, and the worry I seemed to have that if I wrote it down I had to be it forever, I came across this same biting truth explained by the fiery Janne Robinson. (Click on the photo below to read her entire invigorating piece.)

I adore the liberation in her first line, “A poem is a moment.”

So this week as you are writing and creating I hope you will give yourself the freedom to keep moving the pen across the page to get to the real stuff, the truth inside. To stop fighting what is within you and instead accept it, curl into it, become one with it.

And then, when the moment is gone, to just as gracefully and impolitely, move on.

Until next time, I’m sending you so much love & inspiration,

Allison Marie

Receive weekly creative goodies like these by clicking here to sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll catch you on Mondays. 🙂

 

on finding your flow & not holding back

As a creative, poet, and voracious reader, I read hundreds of poems every week. I came upon one a few days ago that stood out because it spoke so brilliantly about how we create our own containers, but we do not belong to them. Here is the poem by Alice Walker titled When You See Water.

When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
water;
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river;
When you see ocean
water
you say: This is the ocean’s
water!
But actually water is always
only itself
and does not belong
to any of these containers
though it creates them.
And so it is with you.

What I am thinking about this week is: how am I holding myself back in my creativity by boxing myself in? How do I need to more often remember that I am the water, not what contains it?  In so many ways over the years, I have told myself some version of: “No, you cannot write about that.” or “No, that is for other writers to say, but not you. you are not ready / capable / good enough / wise enough / clever enough / etc. to write about those things.”

I had decided I was a certain kind of container who could, therefore, only contain certain things. I was a river, so I could only write about river. What I did not realize was that I am the water, and my water was ready to be ocean. It wasn’t about defining myself, it was about flowing where I naturally needed to go.

If something is true for you, and it burns inside to be created, written about, painted about, sung about, then that is your water, that is your life and it will flow in its own way as long as you do not judge it or try in some (ill-fitting, unbecoming, overburdensome) way to define it by some arbitrary parameters you yourself impose upon it.

Our job as artists is not to become so worried about how to contain a work, or restrain it, or fit-it-in to what we think the rest of the world will accept or is ready for. Our job as artists is to be one with our own personal creative flow.

And when we are oceans we will be ocean. and when we are rivers we will be river. and when we are rain we will be rain. and so it is.

Until next time, I’m sending you so much love & go-with-your-flow inspiration,

Allison Marie

If you are afraid to write it,
that’s a good sign.
I suppose you know you’re
writing the
truth when you’re terrified.

—Yrsa Daley-Ward, bone.

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I’ve just finished reading The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward. A lyrical memoir about going under, losing yourself, & finding your voice. Yrsa’s ability to pierce the veil & get straight to the heart, to place her hands on the pulse of a thing, is astounding. You will come away stronger because she is vulnerable but never once flinches. An outstanding, haunting, gutting, redeeming read.

From The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward.

terrible things

all of the most beautiful
and terrible things

i have done

i have done
for love.

and the madman
is mad for love

and the ones you love
are mad for love

and the ones you hate
are mad for love

and the only thing
that keeps us one

is madness & we call
madness love.

and the world begins
to destroy itself.

just like you do.
just like you burn the

bed you sleep in.
just like the bed

and the fire
and your hands

are dangerous.
for love.

god, whatever she is

there is a spirit which moves within me.
dwells inside me, as me.
i may be standing in the center of a room,
crowded or alone,

and i am suddenly overcome
with the sensation of being spoken to
words without words
as they touch like the passing bend

of an invisible wing.
a movement of a love
so deep the veins respond
quietly, joyfully, reverently.

i can only imagine that god,
whatever she is,
this is the way
of her enchanting echo

a vibration
ever ancient and eternal.
like pale summer evenings
extend their burning fingers

through trees.

5 secrets to good writing (& a good life)

I must admit I am rather s l o w l y returning to reality after spending a full glorious week relaxing by the sea.  But as we were making our way home over the weekend, I got to thinking about life and writing, and how many lessons I have learned through my writing practice that have also been lessons I apply to living a good life. To be an artist is a special way of being, I have always believed that to be true, and the more closely we explore our creativity, the more life secrets we discover.

With that in mind, I thought I would share the top five ways writing has awakened me to a fuller, happier, more expressive life:

1. Writing has taught me the intimate, critical skill of listening. When we think of writing, we tend to think about a person who has things to say, and while that is of course true, it is equally true that in order to be able to say something worthwhile, you have to spend a great deal of time listening first. Listening to yourself, to your inner voice. Listening for the poem within so you can understand its message before you know how to craft her lines. Listening to the world happening around you, listening to other people. Listening to nature with your whole being. Listening by reading the works of fellow creatives. Listening longer and more attentively than most other people do is a beautiful way to cultivate a writing practice and a life rich in meaning.

2. First drafts are a lot like beginning anything that scares or intimidates you. The only way to break through the paralyzing perfectionism is to just keep writing through the mess to get to the gold. As Anne Lamott so brilliantly puts it: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Don’t judge— just write. Beginning is the hardest part. You don’t have to know everything before you start, just start anywhere. Move. Decide. Jump in.

3. Both pain and pleasure can be wellsprings of creativity. Always approach them both with love and respect, and pay attention to how they manifest within you. This is how empathy is nurtured, and all writing, all art, all connection, all life, can only benefit from an increase in deeply empathetic humans.

4. Cherish the elders. There are people who have come before you and paved the way for you. Learn about them. Be grateful and humble in their presence. Spend time with them regularly because to listen and learn from their achievements, disappointments, triumphs, struggles, stories and traditions is a sacred gift. Their contributions are holy ground. There are certain secrets to life that will always be true. Learn what is timeless and honor it.

5. Good writing has its own rhythm and pace, so does a good, authentic life. Every writer, every artist, has her own unique voice and style. When I first started out writing, I was sort of taking bits of those I admired and imitating them, trying their styles on for size. Eventually though, I discovered my own flow and rhythm that felt like “home” and I found my own voice by becoming more accepting of my own limitations and talents. All of which is simply to say: Find your groove and let it guide you. You are already wiser than you think.

Also? Coffee. Even if everything else falls to dust, coffee is really the secret to the good writing and the good, good life. 🙂

Until next time, I’m sending you so much love & gratitude eternal,

Allison Marie

Receive weekly creative goodies like these by clicking here to sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll catch you on Mondays. 🙂

the poetry of women

i want to be surrounded by
the poetry of strong beautiful women.
the ones who took the lifebeatings and buried them deep—
wept suns and moons and planets,
the river water of the ages, oceanic tides of grief
salted earth
beneath their precious bruised
fingers—
only to have them grow roots
and bloom again in the buzzing heat of morning.
the fragrance of tragedy
written into hope.

in the palm of my mind (guiding lights)

in the palm of my mind live
guiding lights.
soft summer wings spread, billowing,
sigh beneath the curtains
as they clutch a pale
peach night.

blue eyes reflect, a lake opens wide & falls
reverent
beaming, drawn toward the face of the sky.
a being at the window of an evening
i have yet to know.

it calls for me, my name cupped in the hands of the Word,
moves my body. some trace of what may come.
and i am shown
and i was the one:

closing heaven against your eyelids.
nesting dreams inside your bed sheets.
tasting solace in the mouth
of your sweet heartache.

How to make the art without the fear.

She was a complete stranger to me. Truth be told she still is — I do not know her name. And we never even spoke to each other.  But in our brief, barely-one-minute encounter, she opened me to a whole new way of alleviating my biggest fears around creating art and sharing it with the world.

There is not an artist alive who does not struggle with big fear around exposing themselves to a world that can often feel judgmental and punishing. While as creatives one of our greatest strengths is our vulnerability, that instinct to hold back or try to fit in can be majorly paralyzing.

How to break free? Here is a perfect start, and it’s so simple you’ll be able to draw strength from it many times over, for the rest of your life, no matter your age or endeavor. So I’ve recorded myself telling this story as a little six minute podcast which you can listen to by clicking the recording below (or you can just keep reading):

A few Saturdays ago, my husband and I were taking a walk through Tyler State Park and as we were coming up a hill there was a family coming the other way, and walking behind the dad and his son was the daughter and this tiny girl was singing at the top of her little lungs. Singing and watching the water of the stream rushing along, sunlight all tumbling down upon her hair through the trees. And as she sang – words completely incomprehensible, I literally have no idea what the words to this song were – she moved the lollipop in and out of her mouth.

And I was struck by the bigness of her presence, this tiny kid. This tiny creature booming inside the bigness of the world. And I thought isn’t this the way of things. We come into the world and for a brief time we are children spreading ourselves out into the world., exploring, getting messy, getting curious, being surprised and delighted, exhausting our little selves in all the very best ways. Playing. Then things inevitably happen to us, we are bullied, or we get bad grades or we are hurt deeply by someone we love or a pet dies or a friend moves away. And little by little, we become smaller and smaller. We grow bigger in size but as we do, we retreat farther and farther into ourselves. We protect ourselves from the bigness of the world, hoping that by becoming smaller we won’t hurt as much. If we are lucky we won’t be seen and then we cannot be hurt.

For me, writing is the way I learned to and am still learning – to fill out again. To remember that I am allowed to be here, to experience all the pleasure and all the pain of it. To take up space. In spite of all the ways life has tried to keep me small, I can still dare to expand into all of who I am. Enjoy the joy and use the pain as well. Both are sources of creativity. When I write sometimes I will think – can I say this? Can I reveal this? In so many ways I think creativity is to keep digging deeper and keep asking over and over – am I allowed? Am I allowed? To feel all of this? To feel the way I feel? To share that? Am I allowed to be this wild strange creature that I am? And not only be this creature but can I be her out loud? Can I be her where the world can hear me? See me? Judge me? Be influenced by me?

That little girl in the park – with her over sized sunglasses and cherry taffy stained lips and golden hair curling every which way as she bounced along – she had a song inside of her. that she wasn’t keeping to herself. She was happily and very deliberately singing it out loud. For her to hear. For people to hear. For the trees and the water and the rocks and the dogs and the birds and the flowers to hear. That’s all poetry is really, that’s all art is. Taking the songs you have inside and signing them out loud just to hear the way they sound. Just to remind yourself that you are allowed to be here. To feel all of it. To share all of it. We are allowed to grow big again – big like kids – grow big and take up space.

Not only are we allowed but we were meant to do this. We were designed to create, to sing, to write, to move, to make our art out loud.

So that’s the story of the stranger who opened my eyes, heart, and mind to a new way of creating art that feels the most like me at my most joyous and true.

In closing, I want to wish you an absolutely beautiful two weeks ahead. I am on vacation with my family next week, so it is very possible I will not be sending a note out on Monday the 18th. I’ll be thinking of you though, of course. And looking forward to returning to our Monday dates on the 25th, refreshed and salt-water rejuvenated  🙂

Until then…. as the mysterious stranger in my story would no doubt encourage you to do… go big. Dance like nobody’s watching, and sing like nobody’s listening.

With so much love and gratitude eternal,

Allison Marie

Receive weekly creative goodies like these by clicking here to sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll catch you on Mondays. 🙂

Not what a good writer does.

It has been a contemplative week for me. I spent the week delving into the creative things I found that piqued my interest, while deliberately not posting anything to social media because something in me was craving alone time. It can be a strange thing, social media. Every post is a mini-performance. It’s like putting on a little show every time you share. And that’s lovely. But your whole life — my whole life — can’t be a constant performance for other people. There has to be a rich and interesting ‘behind-the-scenes’, too. And I had gotten to a destructive mental place where everything I was reading or doing or working on, I was thinking in the back of my mind, ‘should I share this?’ ‘how about this?’ ‘is this important to give the people?’ ‘is this good for them?’

And with all that mental chatter going on, I wasn’t able to take anything in, for myself. I couldn’t process it, chew on it, digest it, all on my own for my own growth and pleasure. That was a red flag for me that something was unhealthy. It is such an important thing to be able to have a clear mind and a wide open space inside where you can run free. A silence all your own. To be with the Presence. The All of Creation. The soft, soft beating of my own heart, wandering wild and free. and alone. and together with The Mysterious Everything.

So this week as I pulled away from the world and into myself, I was still writing, in fact, I wrote more this past week than I had in months and it felt GORGEOUS.  I could hear my own voice again. So I come to you after a week in creative solitude to offer you this little collection of things that inspired me over the past few days. They run quite the creative gamut, and there are two ways of thinking about that. One is that I’m just a scatterbrain. The other is that in a joyful creative life, you don’t hold yourself back, and you don’t box yourself in, and you can grow in every direction you feel like as long as it feels delicious.

How about let’s go with the latter, it sounds so much more fun, yeah? 🙂

So. Here are 4 things I couldn’t wait to share with you, and 2 bonus things that involve purple wildflowers because I want you to feel beautiful, vibrant, and adored because you so are.

(1) I’m wild for the art of self-portraiture right now. It is HARD to do. But when I get an image I like, it feels really good to remember that we are all beautiful, and we are all flawed, and we all have the right to explore our own precious bodies in ways that feel holy, intimate, and healthy. Here is one of my own self-portraits, along with a little riff I wrote about writing big unwieldy things, and not sharing them yet, and painting my hair ocean blue.  Also, here are three self-portrait artists who are insanely talented and have inspired me to give it a try more often: @luna.res @brookeshaden @katieteix 

(2) “Live first. Then you write. You don’t ‘live to write.’ That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not what any good writer does.” — this is some righteous, straight-forward advice from a strong and mighty writer named Rita Dove, who is the next poetry editor for The New York Times. Here is a great article about her and what she believes poetry might grant unsuspecting news readers. The Times will run poetry right alongside their regular news stories. Poetry in a new kind of spotlight? I’m intrigued… (Here is Rita Dove’s poem Testimonial. “I gave my promise to the world / And the world followed me here.”)

(3) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about the danger of a single story is incredibly thoughtful, empowering, and inspiring. If you ever fear telling your own story – scars and scabs and all – through your art, this talk is a must watch / listen to. It is no secret that we are living in dynamic and sometimes down right frightening global times, and in my heart of hearts I truly believe that it will be the artists who tell their own stories with kindness and conviction, and the ones with the courage to really listen to them, who will make our world a safer place for humanity and this precious planet we share.

(4) “If I were your writing coach, my first goal would be to encourage your sense of self. I know you have one. I’d coax it out.” — Kris Gage in her article How To Be A Writer. I adore this gal’s style. She slings drinks and she does not play when it comes to writing advice. (or life advice, for that matter. which I suppose is quite truly the same thing.)

Which all brings us to the 2 bonus things I promised you this week, in all of your magical creative glow.

Thing #1. A lovely flatbed of wildflowers under a dreamy spring cloud sky. I took this photo while out with my husband antiquing, flea marketing, flower collecting, and looking for the perfect farmhouse to pretend we can afford. Because writers take breaks from writing, too. And we know that a huge part of writing is to live with eyes and arms and hearts wide open. We are sky and earth, and night and day. and rain and sun, and we bloom in our own time, in our own seasons, and it’s beautiful to be us.

Thing #2. A little drawing I made in my journal to represent feelings that I had no real words to describe. I wrote a thing about it here. Which is mainly to say, that whatever you are working on, dear creative friend, it is lovely.  Whatever it is, just as it is, it is a beautiful imperfect gift. And you? You are nothing but miraculous shine.

Until next time, I’m sending you love like wildflowers, and joy like a little witch girl figure whose legs for some inexplicable reason don’t connect to her tiny triangle body,

Allison Marie

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