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

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

“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.

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. 🙂

// Here Is The Flood (Audiofiles) //

 

 

This is an excerpt from “Here Is The Flood” — one of the opening pieces in my upcoming book Luminae.  You can click play to hear me read the full piece.

I find that one of the hardest things to do is to try to speak about why I write. For me it’s about going deep enough within to a place where one can find the breathtaking beauty in pangs of sorrow, and terrible longing even inside joy.  Whenever I write it seems more and more is revealed to me about the paradox of what we are as humans. Though I know I’ll never be able to grasp it in full, I believe somewhere in the search for myself lies the truth of who I am. It is that elusive truth which keeps me coming back to the page.

I hope you enjoy this piece. I hope it sparks something creative inside of you.

Luminae will be available on Amazon beginning November 15th.

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// Wax Figurines (Audiofiles) //

 

 

As the wind on the other side of the house spins dry leaves into playful funnels, I pour a glass of red to take the edge off the cracking in my worn out limbs. When static picks at my insides, I think about how the passing of time can do strange shadowy things to the air in an empty room. I remember your arms reaching for me under warm wool blankets like rays of twilight radiating from behind the gray pale hills in winter. The way the coming season tasted cold in my throat just before your lips made silver puddles in the curves of my fading summer skin. We bent like swans in a secluded cove, beauty is more beautiful when it moves back and forth between two creatures, felt but unseen.

Lighting tall candlesticks made of honey and wax, I swallow the darkness in bottles to help sleep through the pain.

I miss the way you used to hold my eyes with yours so gently that to look away felt like a thousand little claws tearing in my heart. The heavenly weight of you, once pushed against me now hangs burdensome within.  I notice I am clutching my hands so tight there are marks in my palms, I’m trying to hold us together though we have long been torn apart. You linger in a place which grew so loud inside me it screamed itself alive, built its strangled silence into faces on the walls.

The scent of heady incense stays nestled in the curtains, the bed sheets, the windowsill I run my fingertips along just now.  Splinters, glittering stars, little fires spitting heat. Spirits hollow, sing; your ghost in the bird wings scattered at my feet.

There are traces of you in my reflection, your bones carve out the shallow in my cheeks, the stubble on your chin still scratches the length of my collarbone before the dead mornings like knives rush in, bleak. I saw you. I could almost swear but what’s the use. When the heavy snow came down you were red fire in the smoldering paprika sky. My lips burn swollen at the thought of the flame of you. I wish you could still feel the blood pulsing expectant in my wrists, your hands upon my neck. I wonder if you still do. If the places in the mind which ring the mystery of longing exist someplace safely in a place far beyond my name.

But the days have grown short inside of me and midnight falls too easily now, bleeding and so full that when I close my eyes I forget everything I had ever been told about what it means to love, what it means to die, what it means to touch. I still hold you close without thinking and bury my tears into your memory before I lose the grip I once had on what is real and what has disappeared. When will this madness lift. When will all the ache be gone.

The wine is plush and smooth as silk as it glides over my tongue. How is it that as the world grows darker, you grow luminous. How is it that the dead still breathe in dreams. When will those little brown leaves finally let the tired north wind rest in peace.

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(*If you click up at the top there you can hear me read this piece.)

// Crawl Inside You (Interspace) //

The cool dawn is so clutched with frost that the atmosphere cracks when I exhale. I have been here all this time waiting for you to come home, to build your little warm nest inside me and thread your ribbons through my bones. The air has become rich with darkness inside my lungs; thunder and church steeples round and round like a crown above my low fallen skull.

How is it we emerge again? Is it through sheer force of will, is it by the benevolence of something tried and tested by the fires of hell, something divine which guides the universe. White lights are flaring up, one by one, along the runway toward eternity and all those uncertain things which eat away my organs.

How many ways are there to find your way home. How many people are as lost as I am, listening for voices, calling out for affection, tracing their chipped fingers over bumps in the globe.

As I gaze up into your cloud space eyes, my skin blooms with the taste of that heady sensation just before ecstasy and the way it tingles through my wet body. I drink the sweet rhythm of you and at last begin ebbing away from the pain. I am only as strong as what I believe and I believe in nothing if I do not believe in you. Prayers are fresh tears in a jar by the bed, prayers are the beads of dread and sweat I swallow to try to forget.

With my mouth I hand you a leash of promises and you lead me like an animal into the sun. Four small sparrows sit huddled upon the window ledge and as we depart the earth they sing. Every winter which ever scarred the womb has buried itself inside my final breath. A tangle of rose buds encases my heart like a cage and I sleep with you peacefully as the stones which once erected the bloodiest cities in the world begin caving in.

The footsteps I hear are whispers and the whispers are trees. Could the beauty of your stride be my darkest secrets suspended overhead for all to see. The way you collect me like a child collects the dying leaves tells me we are not done here. We are not done.

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// to nowhere //

and the static played long
children lost, bred from the bleeding of chewed tongues
the sounds came from each corner of a carousel
crumbling human paper
entire days thrown into waste baskets affixed to nowhere
to nothing

digital profanity came dripping from their radio eyes
all in the streets the Sickness
in dark rivers rushing
cutting the small silent figures away at the knees

but they do not see
what i see
they do not hear
they have faces which blister with angry sky
bodies blown away slow
on the wind.

not i.
not i.

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// It Was You //

Low in sound
skin bereft of shadow
it was you
tongue the soft feather bed, you
crushed into the word
fallen
broke free the wing
of dark autumn sky.

you frothing window
wintered
you moving hands among wreckage
they do not know
how to speak

for you. you each night turned
paleface
at the beginning
always the beginning
again and again the ground
opening
opening
opening
clawing at the back teeth
a dream gaping, half-lit
within a dream.

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// And You Call It Love //

Isn’t that what you always wanted, something to dangle me over the edge with, some kind of blade some kind of sliding eyes. I believed you when you told me I was everything but maybe we are all thirsty, maybe we are all scabbed over the knees and forever halfway between home and heartache. Some of us live here. And die here. And spin ourselves sick in the cruel open hands of those who cannot take care of themselves. I would open my mouth for you but then you’d come too close. This is a silence we wear on the outside, we are window panes heavy and drunk with rain. Locked down tight but completely transparent. We would hide but our hearts had long ago, by unspeakable things, been forced open. And oh, our hearts. Our mad beautiful masochist hearts.

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