Jun 04

More Tidbits to Ponder

Pink Peony I, Copyright David J. Bookbinder

Dear Readers,
Here is my semi-regular roundup of things I’ve been reading on the web. May you find something here that resonates or inspires.


From Make a Living Writing, Carol Tice writes about “What I Learned About Writing From My Lunch With a Dead Woman.” While the title is a bit blunt, it fits with the no-nonsense lessons she learns from her dying friend Linda about taking care of your creative self, which include: Keep Creating; Be Perceptive; Be Forgiving; and Be Giving.

This post was especially resonant for me, as this past week three people in my wider circle died unexpectedly: one, a future colleague, only 32 years old, who died in her sleep; another, the husband of a former colleague, only 50 years old; and another, a student in our dept, a young man. At the same time, a gunman killed 5 people in a cafe in Seattle, in a neighborhood I frequented often. I spent the weekend with a somber heart. I burrowed into myself and yet yearned for connection at the same time.

Sometimes it takes shocks like these to remember what’s essential. Here from Writing our Way Home, Fiona Robyns speaks about the “crust” that we often develop to survive, and how essential (and painful) it can be to strip away that crust:

I sometimes see us human beings as being made up of many layers. These layers form like crusts as a result of experiences. We mould ourselves & adapt within our network our relationships. We protect ourselves. We make mostly subconscious decisions about ‘who we are’. Sometimes these crusts are as tough as a giant tortoise’s shell, and sometimes they are deep deep down near our very foundations. They are often almost invisible. They can be rolled up and squashed in as tightly as the petals in that peony.

When we get close to a new crust, and as it begins to unfurl, we get to the hurt. These crusts think they are protecting us. They won’t give up the ghost without a fight.


And finally, from Rick Hanson’s newsletter “Just One Thing,” he speaks about one sure way to connect with the world, even when we’re finding it difficult: discern what’s “likeable” in everything:

Right now, through the window in my home office, I see a golden squirrel scampering atop my fence. I like the little critter, the view of the hills beyond it, and having a life that includes squirrels. This simple moment of enjoyment is the subject of this week’s practice: see what’s likable.

Notice what happens when you apply it to everyday things around you, like cups, grass, streetlights, clouds, and sofas. Also feel what happens when you focus on likable aspects of other people, from casual acquaintances to loved ones. I think you’ll find that in your body this practice is immediately relaxing and restorative, in your mind it is soothing and happy-making, and in your relationships it brings ease and comfort and intimacy. Pretty good results for something that feels so good!

May you have a likeable week, dear readers, and remember to cherish all beings, large and small—allow them to be the material of a creative life.

With gratitude for you,


May 20

Some tidbits to ponder….

Dear Readers,
Today, I want to give you a few juicy tidbits I’ve picked up in my reading around the web. Since researching The Pen and the Bell, I receive many, many great notifications about writing and the contemplative life. Here are just a few.


Hedgebrook is an amazing community of women writers; their retreat center on Whidbey Island, WA, offers retreats for women writers at all levels of experience. Holly and I wrote part of The Pen and The Bell there, in the wonderful Meadow House. From the Hedgebrook blog, The Farmhouse Table, here is an excerpt from Kim Todd’s post, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Write)”:

And what would I recommend if I were writing What to Expect When You Are Expecting (to Write a Novel, Play, Essay, or Poem)? Walk along the road to a cold October beach. Try to hear a winter wren. Waste time wantonly. Read your work out loud to an empty room, one that appears to understand you. Burrow into afternoons of solitude with no one to offend or impress or startle with your strangeness.


Dinty Moore is the editor of Brevity Magazine, and a prolific writer himself. His latest book. The Mindful Writer, makes a wonderful companion to The Pen and the Bell. Here is Dinty speaking about  the role of “listening” in Writing:

I almost never mention Buddhism or mindfulness in my writing classroom – my spiritual path is something I feel fairly private about, and I certainly don’t want to push it on my undergraduate students.  But the answer, as it is with so many things, is mindfulness: slow down and really hear what you have written.


Don’t listen to your daydreams about your writing, or your fantasies, or your intentions, but listen to the actual words on the page.  Listen to the meaning of the words you have written – do  they really tell the truth, reveal the actual, or do these words just sound good?  Listen also to the music and rhythm of the words.  Often the latter tells you more than the former.  When what you hear is rhythmically sound, smooth, satisfying aurally, then chances are the underlying meanings are also intact, but when your words jam up against one another, move haltingly and sluggishly, like an L.A. traffic jam, there is probably something wrong with the underlying sense of the words as well.

That’s it.  That’s my answer.  Listen.  Read it out loud, and pretend you have no idea who wrote it.  What do you hear?

And if you listen really hard, and relax while you are listening, and if you are mindful enough, maybe you will be able to sense that faint voice, recognize that line of poetry or snippet of unexpected dialogue, crawling down your sleeve.


And finally, Jen Loudon, at Savor and Serve the World, writes to us from her own writing retreat and has suggestions for how to create your own:

Retreat time has its own rhythm. Of course, life does too, but we I often override that rhythm. So the first order of retreat business: trusting that rhythm. Self-kindness trust through compassionate vigilance. As in: Am I walking to water again because I need to lighten up on my “agenda” to get a lot done or am I walking to the water again because I want to get away from the anxiety I often feel when writing?

Today’s a big day for The Pen and the Bell. We’re having our official book launch at Village Books in Bellingham, WA! If you’re in town, stop by to meet us at 4 p.m., for some reading and writing and community.

We’ll also be having a Seattle area book launch at Eagle Harbor Books on June 28th, 7:30 p.m. (You can always check the “News and Events” page on our website for current information).

If you can’t meet us in person, but would like to read an interview with Holly and me about the creative life, check us out at Writing our Way Home, Fiona Robyn’s amazing website that supports writers of all kinds.

And wherever you are, may you have a day that’s fruitful and delicious,