Sep 26

Tapping Into Our Collective Creative Energy

Dear friends,

I’m just back from teaching at the literary conference LitFuse, and I should be asleep, but I’m too wired; LitFuse did just what it promised. I’m reminded why we go to conferences: Writing is a solitary act and we need the energy and inspiration from others in our tribe, need the reminders that we’re not alone in this sometimes lonely pursuit.

I’d been hearing about LitFuse for years, since it was launched in 2006 in Tieton (near Yakima, WA) and was glad to have the opportunity to experience it myself. I knew it would be exhausting—the three-hour drive over on highways dense with smoke from the fires to the north—and it was. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I received back.

I taught two workshops: “Making Room to Write in a Crowded World: Mindfulness and Writing Practice,” using The Pen and the Bell,  and a workshop on revision. Since I didn’t have much time to prepare, I decided to call on my former teachers—and all the collective wisdom in the room. It worked. I put together a list of revision strategies from workshops I’d attended and that spun into a lively discussion, everyone in the room bringing their own questions, examples, and strategies to the conversation. (I’m happy to send my list of revision strategies to anyone who asks for it.)  

To prepare us, we read together a few lines from a poem by Jane Hirshfield, reminding us that revision is an opportunity to “re-vision” our work,

Toward the end, only revision mattered:
to look again, more deeply, harder, clearer,
the one redemption granted us to ask.
   — “History of the Painter Bonnard”

Here are a few of the many suggestions from faculty and students in the workshop, with a deep bow of gratitude to all:

Karen Finneyfrock, a  wonderful spoken word poet, took the important strategy of reading the poem aloud one step further: Memorize the poem! She finds that when she stumbles in a poem, that’s often a line that needs re-working. Along this line, Terry Martin, of Blue Begonia Press, reminded us that it’s helpful to hear your poem read aloud by someone else.

Katharine Whitcomb, a fine poet who teaches at Central Washington University reminded us of the importance of the integrity of the line and the importance of a strong title, one that adds tension to the poem. (Check out her poems for great examples of this!)  Marjorie Rommel suggested looking at the poem as a musical narrative, even applying musical terms like adagio or legato to focus on the pacing, specifically. Dana Guthrie Martin suggested trying different sizes/shapes of paper to shift to a new perspective.

I hope you’ll visit the LitFuse website and check out the writing that will be posted from Dan Peters’ workshop, where participants wrote about the glittering sculpture pieces on display in the Mighty Tieton Warehouse. Many thanks to Ed Marquand and Michael Longyear for the vision of Mighty Tieton, and to Michael Schein, Carol Trenga and Sylvia Imbrock for the smooth execution of LitFuse 2012.

This week, tap into the creative energy in your writing community by checking out writing workshops or signing up for a class.  

For writing this week, choose a poem or prose piece that’s stalled out, and try out one of the revision strategies listed here, then send us both versions.   Or send us YOUR revision strategy to add to our list.  

May we all find ways to be re-energized and to “look again, more deeply, harder, clearer” as we head into fall…


Sep 17

Happy New Year!

Dear Friends,
We have just started Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. It’s my favorite holiday, as it comes just at the time of year when everything begins to shift: summer into fall, the school year beginning, evenings growing short but luminous.  We say to each other L’Shana Tovah: May you have a sweet year ahead.

The foods we eat reflect this yearning for sweetness. Traditionally we eat apples dipped in honey, and make sweet challah bread braided into a round. We eat dates and pomegranates. We enter into a period of reflection: thinking over the past, making note of when we’ve been unskilful in our dealings with ourselves and others, and how we might learn from this, move forward with good intentions. We symbolically throw bread crumbs in a creek or a stream to let go of what we want to let go of, to make room for goodness and sweetness to enter.

I’m having several friends over tomorrow night and I’m making Moroccan Chicken with Dates; Sweet potatoes with orange zest; and a braided honey-curry bread. Someone is making an apple-honey tart. Someone else is bringing wine. Together we’ll make a meal that is more than just a physical repast; it will be a way to welcome sweetness into our lives and our hearts.

For 15 minutes, write about a meal that is more than just a meal. What kinds of meals in your past or present represent something beyond the physical? Or write about your favorite holiday: what is it that brings you joy about this day?

May you have a sweet, sweet year ahead, full of love and good cheer,


Sep 10

Some Thoughts on Water

photo by Dale Nuce, taken at Finnriver Farm

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”
Benjamin Franklin

Dear friends,

I woke last night to the unfamiliar chatter of rain on the roof, turned over, relieved I wouldn’t need to water in the morning. We were going on 50 days without rain in the Pacific Northwest, but I’m not complaining; I figure we’re just making up for June and July.  One look at the garden, though, and I’m reminded we live in a maritime climate. Our plants love drizzly days, a constant stream of moisture trickling into their roots.

The past month, I’ve loved spending early mornings in the garden watering, watching the light climb through the Douglas firs and maples to the east, dappling the grass.  One morning last week, I was feeling anxious—school starting in a few weeks, too many house and yard projects underway, not to mention writing projects I’m still hoping to complete—but as I watched the cold, clear water trickle from the watering can into the dry flower pots, I reminded myself to breathe, to imagine being this plant, so grateful for each drop of water. Yes, I still have too much to do, but I’ll just do what I can. In the meantime, I was reminded of what matters: sun, water, air, breath, living in this moment as we all reach for the sun, sink our roots into the earth, drink in the life-giving water.

But then our well pump broke. The plumber couldn’t come and replace it for three days, so I was back to what I learned years ago on our fishing boat with a 25-gallon water tank: use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking, then re-use cooking water to wash dishes and water the plants—and only the plants that really need water.

Thankfully, the pump is fixed now, clear water gushes from the faucet, rain falls outside.  But that week reminded me how easily it could be otherwise and perhaps is true for many in the world who face water shortages. I’m reminded to be grateful each time I turn the faucet, when I water the plants, and yes, when I hear the rain fall.

This week, as we head into fall, let’s reflect on water and the rich diversity of life it supports. If you’d like  to learn more about water, here’s a link to an award-winning documentary film by Irina Salina: “Flow: For Love of Water.” If you’re watering your garden, use the time as an opportunity for contemplation—and come up with your own watering meditation.  (Please share it with us if you do)  If you feel inspired to write, check out these poems about water. We hope you’ll post what you write, or post your favorite water poems.



P.S. Here are some more photos from our Finnriver Farm workshop. Enjoy!


Sep 04

Entering the Mind of Green Tomatoes

Dear Friends,

We had a fantastic writing workshop last Sunday. Thank you to the folks at Finnriver Farm who welcomed us to their beautiful land, and thank you to Lela Hilton for making us incredible food for the celebration afterward (almost every bit of it local!), and to Jennifer, for her chocolate “silk truffles” that make eating mindfully so easy and full of pleasure! Thank you to the weather gods who granted us the perfect fall day: sunny, with just a touch of coolness in the air.

Thank you to the participants who gamely did whatever we asked, whether it be lying in a field, while blueberry pickers passed by, and uttering loud, reverberant “AHHHH’s” as we breathed fully together; or thoughtfully examining a single blueberry, before rolling it on the tongue; or walking in mindfulness down the hill to commune with sunflowers, green tomatoes, pigs, or chickens.

For those of you who didn’t get to join us in person, here are a couple of the writing exercises we did together:

For an exercise around food, we looked at the Li-Young Lee poem, “Eating Together”:

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

We talked about how Lee’s attention to the simplest, physical details leads him seamlessly to more metaphysical concerns. It’s a great example of paying careful attention to what is right in front of you and allowing those details to lead you (and the reader) to a startling, yet inevitable, destination.

Then we tried it ourselves for ten minutes. Here’s what I wrote:

In the roasting pan is the chicken, stuffed with two lemons and a peeled onion, skin crusted with coarse salt and peper. We shall eat it for Shabbat: father, mother, brothers who will argue over the wishbone with greasy fingers. My father will pry the leg from the bird; my mother will cut thin, tender slices of breast. The candles  burn, one of them in a glass jar for my grandmother, Beatrice, whose recipe is spotted with oil, whose apron now hangs limp behind nobody’s door. I’ll pick up the bones, smell thyme, sage, rosemary—herbs that are nowhere in evidence tonight but that will grace all my roast chickens in the future.

For another exercise, Holly read several poems about the land, including a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, called “The Mind of Squash”:

Overnight, and quietly. Beneath the scratchy leaf we thicken and expand so fast you can’t believe. Sun pours into us. We drink midnight too, blue locust lullaby feeding our graceful sleep. When you come back, we are fat. Doubled in the dark. Faster than you are. Sometimes we grow together, two of us twining out from the same stalk, conversational blossoms. Bring the bucket. Bring the small knife with the sharp blade. Bring the wind to cool our wide span of leaves, each one bigger than a human head, bigger than dinner plates. Wait till you find the giant prize we have hidden from you all along—no muscle-rich upper arm exceeds its size. But the farmer doesn’t like it. Too big for selling, he says. Only for zucchini bread. Never mind. We like it. We have our own pride.

We then sent everyone out to observe something on the farm and then sit with it for several minutes, writing. We could enter “the mind” of that object, or write an ode to it. Here is what Holly wrote:

Hanging out with the Green Tomatoes in the Greenhouse

Come in, they say. We’re all Romas here, green, yes, but in time we’ll ripen, our pendulous bodies blushing pink, then pimento red before fall. Don’t give up on us. It’s never too late to ripen. Just give us a little more sun and heat and the farmers who come each day to slake our thirst, our long tendrils reaching like white snakes into the black earth.

Yes, we’re a mess; we admit it. We sprawl on the weed cover with abandon, not climbing neatly onto the cages like the farmers wish. September, and still we wear our crown of yellow flowers, hoping for a few more hot days to ripen.  Just don’t fry us or make us into that green tomato chutney–anything but that! Trust that we’ll ripen in time, that there’s always enough time, and if not, there’s always compost.

As the afternoon light ripened, we left each other with a final bell of mindfulness, a  bow, and the knowledge that we can always gain access to our creative selves just by being here, fully present, to the all that the world offers us. And it helps to have a few good friends supporting you along the way.

Crystie, co-owner of Finnriver Farm

Jennifer, the chocolate fairy.

Please try our writing exercises and let us know what you come up with! Wishing you a bright fall day, filled with abundance,