A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup then raise it to nourish your parched holy mouth. Hafiz
As we write, we are both describing and deciding the direction that our life is taking. Julia Cameron
Choose a topic, any topic. It can be a word you draw out of a bowl, or an image or phrase, or a line from a novel or poem. It doesn’t matter. It is just an entryway that takes you into the world you need to explore in a given moment. And the tools you need for the journey are few and the load light. A pen or pencil, paper of your choosing, and you are set to go — and that’s what you do, you go, full-bodied whole-hearted, into this practice. You set the time — five minutes, ten, thirty, whatever you decide — and you keep your hand moving, no matter what. And you don’t think and you don’t cross out and you give yourself permission to dive down deep and you accept what emerges from you-don’t-know-where and you allow yourself to be surprised and you send your inner critic away for the duration because your inner critic knows diddley-squat about the lurkings in the innermost caverns of your beautiful heart. And you just keep going, sometimes slogging along through what feels like muck, sometimes holding on for dear life as you ride a wave that you hope doesn’t take you under. You just keep going through it all — until it’s over, the five or ten or thirty minutes, and then you lift your pen or pencil from the page and you sit back and breathe and move on, into the next moment and the next.
That is how you do it. That is how I do it, this practice of writing. And I bless Natalie Goldberg, Zen practitioner and writer, and her book from the late eighties, Writing Down the Bones, for offering these tools for the writing journey and providing an invitation to allow it to be a practice. I accepted her invitation, and it allowed something inside me to wander and wonder and discover whole universes of possibility — it still does. This is a practice that I have made my own for nearly thirty years. It not only provides me with a way to write that is easy and fun; it also provides me with a steadiness and a rudder for sailing through this sea of energy in my writing and in my living. It is a practice that I do on my own and a practice that I do with others — with a local group of fellow explorers, and with my pen pal writing sisters, as well as in the occasional workshop I facilitate.
Natalie Goldberg, our teacher at a workshop I attended years ago, told a story of a well-known writer, a keynote at a conference, who took center stage. Those in attendance, expectant that he would read from one of his published works, were surprised when he opened a journal and began to share his rough and raw scrawls. Natalie told us that the audience was electrified, wide-eyed, paying attention in the we pay attention when in the presence of something steaming and teeming with life, something that isn’t in any way predictable or watered down. That is what it is like every time you pick up a pen or pencil and write in this manner. You don’t know what will end up on the page. And that is what it is like when you are the listener — you don’t know what world you will enter as witness when someone is brave enough to read their unbridled uncensored rough writing. And that is what we do together when we meet as a group — we write unbridled and we read unbridled and we listen attentively and appreciatively from a place that is just as brave. And that is what we did at a writing workshop at Joy Center a month ago. We wrote, ten minutes at a time, and we read these unedited pieces, and we witnessed each other in the process — and then we each went home with our journals and our writings and our unique voices and stories and lives. The process, the practice is rich, and sometimes this is enough, sometimes we never revisit these writings. And sometimes we do. Sometimes these writings become poems, or the seeds for stories or essays, and sometimes we share them pretty much as we wrote them, just fiddling a bit with line breaks and punctuation. And that’s what I’m doing now, sharing with you two writings from that Joy Center retreat, pretty much as I wrote them, unbridled a month ago.
I want to tell you I love life
that I’m starting a new decade
and I don’t know
what this decade is going to bring
but I do know I am being reborn into it.
My friend Barb says
more light is flooding the planet
and it is time to let go of anything heavy
anything holding us back.
I want to tell you I like a lighter life
love to putter, cut out images, am an artist in my soul
that I am not someone who wants to be bogged down
that I give my best when I am spacious inside.
I want to tell you that life is meant to be savored
a slow-cooked meal, a fresh plate of fruit, a Mexican birthday cake
filled with layers of whipped cream.
It is not a rat race. It is ratatouille.
I want to tell you I love life, my life
Its details are precious.
I ate an egg today from my friend Libby’s farm
and Libby is creating for me a hoodie made of wool
from her sheep
and the details of Libby’s life matter.
I want to tell you that life is good
when we savor the details
when we crack open our days and delight
in what we hatch.
How do you talk about a love that spans forty years?
I was eighteen, a college freshman, and he was nineteen, eight months older, and we had spent the day by the sea, the waves splashing the shore, the sky gray. He was a rich boy from Michigan and Michigan could have been Mongolia to a Maine girl who had never traveled farther than Connecticut. And he had a brand-new fire engine red Chevy ’74 Blazer with a roll bar and fog lights and he wore LL Bean chamois shirts and Levi jeans and he knew the names of the ducks that bobbed in the bay — and I’m sure we kissed on the shore of the sea. And that evening — it was a Friday — back in the dorm at the party in the lobby that smelled like stale beer and mildewy carpet, there we were. I think I was sitting on his lap, this sweet boy from Michigan’s lap, and he looked into my eyes and we still had the sea in our eyes and he said — or I think he asked, “Am I falling in love with you?” And honestly, I felt it, his ocean-big love, and I had never had a boyfriend who adored me before and what brings me to my knees is that it happened again last weekend.
He is sixty now — and I am too. And this brings me to my knees. Where did the time go? And it doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t matter because he was still the young boy-man on Saturday, the guy who rode his snow bike on those melting can’t-get-a grip trails, who rejoiced that he had finished the race, whose voice cracked and trembled when he spoke of the thirty-five kilometers of impossible slush and the seven hours of peddling, who didn’t hold back his unbridled joy, didn’t even try to be cool at the Snow Bowl after-party, who introduced me to everyone with pride and excitement. “This is my wife!” he said. “I’m so glad you came to the party!” he said. “Am I falling in love with you?” He didn’t have to say the words. I felt them and I was stunned. I love this man with heart and soul — and that brings me to my knees — that I have a love that can be as fresh as the sea breeze on a Saturday night forty-two years after that college date.