Metaphor or Advice?

Standard

img_0687At the beginning of the month I went to the Holy Grail of women’s writing residencies: Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island. I leave three weeks later (plane takes me home tomorrow). I have managed to stay off of social media (unless you count joining Instagram and friending five of the women I have gotten to know during my stay).

Everything they say about radical hospitality is true. I started out in Willow cottage but roof repair necessitated a move to the Meadow House, and here, in the quiet of my loft desk, I have completed a draft of my next book. I have read books—plural! I have walked around the lagoon and talked to bunnies and slugs. I have discovered quite a bit about the silence of the mind and untapped potential of an unscheduled day.

I have learned how to build a fire. I have discovered that I make terrible coffee. I have also discovered that I will drink terrible coffee if it means not having to leave the cottage.

Here’s some other stuff I’ve learned. Is writing advice or is it metaphor? You be the judge.

 

You don’t have to stay on the path in order to find your way.

Sometimes a fire doesn’t burn until you leave it alone.

The red thermos holds three cups of coffee.

Take time to feed the llamas.

Take baths. Take naps. Take walks. Take the cookie jar if you are hosting.

When you step on a ladder from a lofty height, don’t look down.
When you are climbing the ladder, don’t look down.
When you are descending, it doesn’t matter so much
if you are looking up or looking down.
It only matters that you have a firm footing.

Not every recipe is in the cookbook.

The puffy llama doesn’t want the fruit you have to offer her.
She just wants to snort at you.
Don’t take it personally.
The other llama is not so picky.

Fire needs to breathe to live.
Sometimes kindling and a little air is enough to reignite the flame.

Hedgebrook is the place where you fall out of your routine
in order to fall into a rhythm.

Big flames don’t always carry a lot of heat and they burnt out quickly.
Those orange-hot embers, on the other hand, will cause other logs to catch fire
And will keep you warm through the night.

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate.
You can even throw it away.
After all, making yourself eat more than you can handle is also a waste.

Don’t pay attention to the smoke.
Well, sometimes you should pay attention to the smoke.
Especially if you left a towel on the wood stove.

Sometimes the flowers you cut bloom.
Sometimes they die right away.
Sometimes they have bugs.
Dead flowers have their own picturesque beauty.
Buggy ones—less so.

Burning your manuscript as kindling is fun, but newspaper is more effective.

Even Hedgebrook makes chocolate chips cookies
from the recipe on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse bag.

Vito isn’t making it up—you really can see Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
It will shine there a hundred miles away, iridescent pink and glowing.
And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
You can see its outline in the clouds.
You can feel that it’s there.
This is how you will be when you leave this place.
What you need is already inside of you.
Even if you don’t believe it.

P.S. Don’t kill Gloria Steinem’s spiders.

Orphaned Post #638

Standard
IMG_0632

desk from a cottage in the woods

I am sifting through a very rough draft of a book I’ve been kicking around in my head for years—a book about ballet. This is from the introduction. It doesn’t fit anymore but it deserves to have a home. So here it is. A little nugget from March of 2011.

 

Dear Gentle Reader, (Aren’t readers are always gentle when referred to by their authors?)

            I imagine you curled up on your sofa, drink on the coffee table. Maybe it’s hot chocolate (I myself am partial to hot chocolate) or maybe it’s a hot toddy (perhaps you are partial to those). Or maybe you are sitting on the bus reading during your commute or maybe you are too young for a job and you are instead a budding ballerina, reading this book at night in secret because you are afraid that your mother would never let you read a book that occasionally makes use of the “F” word, which—and you may not be aware of this—is a very handy word when you work in the theatre.

Perhaps you picked up this book because you wanted to know the inside story on ballet—if it is like the movie Black Swan: all sex, drugs, Rachmaninov, and I can assure you that it is. The inside story on ballet, that is. Not necessarily the stories inside this book. There isn’t much sex inside this book. The drugs are limited to over-the-counter narcotics such as nicotine and Dexatrim and the occasional extra-strength laxative. And ibuprofen. Oh, how there ever were ballet dancers before Motrin, I’ll never know. But that’s the extent of the drugs and as for Rachmanianov, really, the only thing he has in common with Tchaikovsky is the fact that they are both Russian.

            But it is the inside story of ballet, the real inside story. Of hope and ambition. Of leaping and falling. Of little girls and grown women. There are shattered dreams just as there are shattered metatarsals. It is the quest for identity—artistic identity, personal identity. It is negotiation between dancing for oneself and dancing for others. After all, if all you do is run around trying to please others, you will never cultivate that one thing that people don’t even know that they want to see—that thing that constitutes your inner you. And yet, if your inner you doesn’t please at least somebody, nobody will offer you a job.

            There is something very strange about the ten-year-old who can see the next twenty years of her life with perfect clarity and feels that there isn’t a moment to lose. It’s probably even stranger when she is right. And there’s something very exotic about teenagers on tour away from home, especially when they grow into long-limbed dancers who wear scarves and soak their feet and agonize over the varying slippage factors of different ribbons. But the real beauty of the stories, just like the real beauty of the dancer (or anyone, really) is what’s within. The real beauty isn’t in the shiny stuff; it’s in the grit and not because dirty is the new shiny, but because the dirt represents the humanness—the vulnerabilities. The falling down, the occasional humiliation.

A broken spirit isn’t inherently beautiful. But you know it what it’s like. You’ve been there. You have been to the place where you dance between what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself and how the universe actually operates. Sometimes the universe isn’t fair and sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Life events do not have to have a meaning in order to be meaningful. In fact, the mantra “Be in the moment” (which I believe is the new “Just do it”) tries to illicit just that.

            Maybe this book is like fog. Fog always looks like it’s somewhere else. Even when you’re deep in it. You can’t hug it. You can’t touch it. But you feel it. It embraces you. It wraps around you. And sometimes it’s heavy and sometimes it’s light. But it’s not something to take; it’s just something to experience.

            I hope you enjoy the experience of this book.

THE BOOK OF KID: the origin story

Standard

BookOfKidCoverI didn’t write THE BOOK OF KID. My daughter’s third-grade class did. I just published it. Their teacher, Ms Diamond, asked her students to give their parents some child-rearing advice. And it turns out they have a lot to tell you (spoiler alert: they want you to get off Facebook and play with them.)

It started as the classroom project for the school auction. I thought I’d get involved. After all, I like books. And I had a printer. Match made in Heaven.

The kids made a list of stuff they wanted their parents to know. For example, my daughter wanted me to know that “Just because we are little versions of you, doesn’t mean we act like you.” Which is interesting, because we look nothing alike.

From their list, each child picked one snippet of advice as the caption to a picture they drew. The picture was then traced onto foam, which became the cut for a color print. Then each 8.5″ x 11″ page was bound accordion-fashion into a book. The winning bid for the book was $800.

Since the class made two copies of their print, I had a complete set which was then scanned and put into a book-book with the rest of the students’ advice. I have to say, it’s really heartbreaking, and if I had a little more editorial control, I might have sat them down and said, “So let’s start with all the stuff your parents do that you really like.” Because it’s not so pleasant to realize how much your kids notice. Like, how often we’re on our phones or how often we complain about someone else.

Because the impetus for the book was a fundraiser, it only seemed right that the royalties from the sale of the book would be donated. We discussed it, and the students were given three options: 1) the money would go to their school; 2) the money would be donated to the middle school that many of them will attend in sixth grade; or 3) the children would donate the money to another elementary school in Oakland Unified School District.

To make the decision, Ms. Diamond didn’t just ask for a show of hands; she made them write opinion pieces. What were the pros and cons of donating money to the neighborhood middle school? The kids had to address tough questions that accompany any gift. What would the school spend it on? What if the kids wanted the money to be spent on computers but it went to something more boring, like school supplies?

After a month of discussion, each child wrote an essay and read it to the class. A blind vote was taken. The winner? Another elementary school in Oakland. Stay tuned to figure out which school will receive the royalties generated by the book sales.

The book is available on Amazon and Create Space as well as Diesel Books and Pegasus Books.

OH, and here’s what some superstar grownups had to say about THE BOOK OF KID:

“A great reminder for parents of kids of all ages: Kids are taking notes every time we swear, check our phones compulsively, or say something negative about someone else. This book is an inspiration to be the best role models that we can be. Moreover, this advice from children to parents mirrors what research shows is best for them; sometimes kids really do know best!”
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents 

“The Book of Kid is evidence that kids hear and see and know more than we sometimes give them credit for. This book is chocked full of sound advice from kids to parents, advice that will help us be our best selves and also the parents our kids need. Read this book and then go play, listen, hug and challenge your kids. They’re begging for it!”
Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words & author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

“This little book has the potential to transform lives – if parents follow the sage advice in these pages, relationships can improve, children will thrive, and the benefits will radiate out into the world with positive repercussions for generations to come. I highly recommend this book for parents of young children everywhere.”
–Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the bestselling titles Living Life as a Thank YouWhat Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?; and The Grateful Life.

“If you don’t want to wait until your child grows up to find out how you could have been a better parent, read this book of heartfelt and surprising third grade wisdom. These children know better than many adults what is really important. Their beautifully illustrated jewel of a book has a prominent place in the waiting room of my child psychology practice.”
–Lucinda Cummings, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

“Listen to your children, Put down your phone, swear less, don’t bad mouth family–easily the best parenting advice I’ve ever read, and straight out of the mouths of funny, honest, wise kids.”
Ann Imig, founder of the national live storytelling series, video-sharing company, and acclaimed book LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

Seven Ways to Make Your Blog a Success—#2 Will Surprise You

Standard

toast(I was going to call this blog post “The Festival of Posts” but I went for click-bait instead.)

The Festival of Posts is a twist on an inside joke at our house: The Festival of Toast. When my husband wants to transform something boring, he calls it a festival. At least twice a week he’ll serve the kids breakfast he calls “The Festival of Toast.” It’s no festival. It’s just toast. Buttered toast. Peanut buttered toast. Toast with jelly. Voilà! Instant festival.

The idea here is that you could pledge to blog once a week and share it on Facebook. Or you could join one of those blog hops in which you and 10,000 other bloggers pledge to blog once a day for a month and read and comment on 10,000 blogs.

Or you could set your expectations really, really low, rope in some friends and call it a Festival.

Here’s what six writers from Write on Mamas have decided to do between February 15th and March 15th:

Step 1: Write a blog post
Step 2: Publish that blog post
Step 3: Share that blog post
Step 4: Read someone else’s blog post
Step 5: Comment on that blog post
Step 6: Share that blog post
Step 7: Rinse and repeat for each blogger

 

Voilà! Instant festival.

And here are the blog urls:

Emily Meyers: Happy Day You

Claire Hennessy: Crazy California Claire

Jilanne Hoffman

Megan Schultz: Musings from Megan

Vicki DeArmon: One Mother’s Edge

Cynthia Lehew-Nehrbass: Joy and Pathos

VACATION RESPONDER: LEGALESE

Standard

Go ahead and say it loud and proud: “I’m self-important and I know big words.” Note: while this responder is intended to just let people know that they are low in the pecking order, it can be easier converted to your average vacation responder. Special thanks to Liz Kramer (not her real name) for this idea.

SUBJECT: Automatic reply for [REGURGITATED EMAIL SUBJECT]

I am out of the office today at client meetings. As time is of the essence, I will only be able to attend to material requests.

However, if you need immediate assistance, please contact my assistant Ida Nough and she will direct you to a consultant to assist you in my absence.

Alternately, if this matter is urgent, you can try to reach me on my mobile phone and I will return your call as soon as possible.

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE:
This electronic mail message and any attached files contain information intended for the exclusive use of the individual or entity to whom it is addressed and may contain information that is proprietary, privileged, confidential and/or exempt from disclosure under applicable law.

THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS ELECTRONIC MAIL TRANSMISSION IS CONFIDENTIAL AND MAY BE PROTECTED FROM UNAUTHORIZED USE OR DISSEMINATION. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any viewing, copying disclosure or distribution of this information is strictly prohibited and may be subject to legal restriction or sanction. Please notify the sender immediately by electronic mail of any unintended recipients and delete the original message without making any copies.

VACATION RESPONDER: HONEST

Standard

Emoticon_Smile_FaceC’mon. When was the last time you really didn’t have access to email when you were on vacation? It was 2007 and we all know it. If you wanted to check email on a plane, on a train, in a car, or off the grid, you could do it, and probably from six different devices. Hell, even the yoga commune where I go to write every January has wifi. So just be honest and tell us—you read our email. You just don’t feel like answering it.

SUBJECT: On Vacation

Hello! I’m on vacation from October 26 – October 31st. Yes, I’m reading each email as it comes in, but I’m only responding to the ones that a) I can answer within six seconds or b) have nothing to do with work. If your email doesn’t fall into either category, I’ll probably answer it when I return, although there is an 86% chance that now that I’ve read your email, I’ve already forgotten all about it.

Cheers!

[YOUR NAME]

Vacation Responder: Recycled Succinct

Standard

litcamp2013Who says a vacation responder has to have complete sentences? All you really need to do is let them know you’re not going to email them. As I did in this little ditty from 2014.

 

SUBJECT: off the grid

Traveling.

Chasing bears.

Reading.

Writing.

But no email.

 

Will get back to you after October 31st.

Vacation Responder: Recycled

Standard

mtrainierI’ll be honest. When I started this little monthly project, I totally underestimated how hard it would be to write a new vacation responder every day. I also underestimated how quickly the novelty would wear off (and I’m just talking about me, not my audience). But I’m committed to writing a post a day even if I have to play catch up now. Even if I have to recycle real live vacation responders from my own inbox. NaNoWriMo is coming up in a few days and if I can’t write 200 words a day, how am I gonna write a novel next month?

So here goes. The first of several recycled vacation responders. 

 

SUBJECT: Holed Up Under a Rock and Writing

Dearest Kind Friend Whose Email I Can’t Wait To Read Upon My Return,

I’m away writing a book. Or playing solitaire because my book has no narrative arc. Maybe eating chocolate which is more fun than writing narrative arcs. Quite possibly drinking out of flask somewhere until inspiration fits. Writing again because what else do you do when the chocolate and booze are gone?

But not reading email until October 31, 2015.

If this is an emergency, you know the drill: you can text my assistant, Sam Sung at [YOUR NUMBER].

[WITTY CLOSING]*

* It’s probably better if you write your own witty closing instead of using mine, which, let’s face, has become pretty stale over the last five years. 

Vacation Responder: Cold and Impersonal

Standard

Emoticon_Smile_FaceIt’s 2015! Office pleasantries are sooooo 2012. Show your clients that you are hip and up-to-date with this cold and impersonal vacation responder bordering on rude and inappropriate. Guaranteed to make you look fifteen years younger.

Hello. I am out of the office. Your email will be answered in the order received when I return.

Best,

[YOUR NAME]

Writing Prompt: You Remember

Standard

not this bus but one just like it

You remember the time in Ferrara, a town you only know because it’s the last stop in Veneto and because it has a theatre but no ballet company. If it did, you’d have auditioned here on your way to look for more stable work. Now it’s just a stop on the tour. The bus to Reggio Emilia is parked right outside the piazza and you know that in the daytime, it’s a pretty average piazza. If this were a smaller company, the poorly-managed kind without a lot of money, you’d mingle outside the stage doors waiting for the rest of the cast, smoking a cigarette under the “No Fumare” sign and then the group would wobble into town and eat at some local trattoria.

But this time you are with a more prestigious company and so there is no time to explore the town you’ve just performed in. The bus leaves 30 minutes after the last curtain call, the only vehicle in the whole boot of Italy that is punctual. You won’t eat until you get back to Reggio Emilia, and then not you make the final trek back to your tiny apartment. Not only will all the restaurants and trattorias be closed when the bus arrives, but you don’t earn enough to eat out after every performance. (Part of the reason that poorly-managed company never has any money is because they always treat the dancers to dinner.) But here at your new job, you’ll have to eat something at home, and with all the touring this week, there’s scarcely been time to go to the grocery store. There’s probably a bit of proscuitto and there’s always pasta and olive oil, if nothing else.

In a way, it’s no different than the bus that waited to take you from Uvalde, Texas back to El Paso when you were in 8th grade. Except perhaps, that you weren’t smoking then.