10 years (and counting) of writing together

In October our writing group, the Mid-Michigan Word Gatherers, will celebrate 10 years of meeting on Thursday mornings. We’ve come together to write every week except Thanksgiving, and Christmas/New Year’s if those holidays happened to fall on a Thursday.

The MMWG began at the Lyons Township District Library, where Vicki Reinhardt, the group’s cofounder with me, was director. After some nasty small town politics led Vicki to depart, we left too. We’ve been happily meeting, and expanding, at SoZo Coffee Roasting and Espresso Bar in Ionia every since. Rodney and Mindy Hensley have been the best and most generous hosts we could have ever imagined!

Our group loosely follows Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers & Artists method, which holds that:

1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.

2. Everyone is born with creative genius.

3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.

4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.

5. A writer is someone who writes.

We also follow the AWA’s Essential Practices, which create “a safe environment where everyone is free to explore within their own writing and listen to each other with respect.”

1. Everyone’’s writing, including the leader’s, is treated with equal respect and value.

2. Writing is kept confidential and treated as fiction.

3. Writers can refrain from reading their work aloud.

4. Responses to just-written work reflect what is strong and successful.

5. Responses and exercises support the development of literary craft.

It’s been a privilege to facilitate this group and to watch writers bloom as they grow in courage to express themselves, confidence in their own unique voices, let go of judgement, and risk uncertainty to create with abandon.

To honor our 10th anniversary of writing together, the MMWG’s annual “Gathering of Writers,” Saturday, Nov. 3, at The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness, will center around Erich Fromm’s famous quote: Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainty. It feels fitting.

Here’s to another 10 years!

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‘Use the voice you’ve got right now’

I’ve been thinking all week about this bit of wisdom from Jennifer Louden.

I follow Jen at The Writer’s Oasis, where she provides writers and creatives of all sorts with inspiration and encouragement to keep going, to make creativity — and ourselves — a priority, and to believe that, no matter what, we are enough. (There’s a modest monthly fee to belong to this community and, believe me, it’s worth every dime. Not only is Jen great; it’s a wonderful place to find harbor and anchor when I and my Muse are adrift in a sea of self-doubt.)

But I digress.

I’m passionate about providing tools and holding supportive space where individuals can explore and exercise their voices. My favorite place these days is inside a men’s state prison in my small town, where I hold two writing groups each week, one for Level 2 men and one for Level 4.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections:

Level I – V prison housing – In general, the higher the security level, the more security risk a prisoner presents in terms of manageability or escape potential. … Secure Level I and above all have secure perimeters which include double fences, razor wire, video monitoring systems and a perimeter detection system. Some prisons have more than one security level.

I love working with these writers, who are gifted, intelligent, witty men serving sentences from a year to life without parole. Their words and insights awe me every time. I’m proud and feel privileged that they allow me to be part of their journeys, and that they are willing to share their lives and their stories with each other and with me.

But again, I digress.

Even as I provide the tools and space for others, with experience and expertise (that was hard to type!), I doubt myself. Who am I to claim and use my voice?

Like much in my life, it’s assigned to “someday.” Someday when I’m a “real writer,” when I have honed and polished my voice to the point where it is at least acceptable, enough, if not A+, when I finally have something brilliant to say. Because anything less than “brilliant” surely counts as a failure.

What if it was less about finding my voice and more about using the one I’ve got now?

What if my voice is enough, just as it is? What if I saw myself, heard myself, as others saw and heard me? What if I trusted myself the way others trust me?

At the end of my favorite movie of all time, “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy tells Glinda and her three friends what she has learned in Oz: “That if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, then I never really lost it to begin with.”

I don’t think Dorothy was saying she should never leave home again. I think she was saying that no matter where she goes, there she’ll be. If she can’t bloom where she’s planted, she’ll never bloom anywhere. She is enough, just as she is.

What if I’m enough? Here. Now. Just the way I am. Like Dorothy. This is what I want my prison writers to believe: They are this … and this too. Convicted of a crime and still worthy. Serving time and still of value. Locked up and still with so much to offer.

They, I — we — are flawed, and still enough. We are able to learn, to hone and polish our skills, our voices, to change and grow. To become better writers, better people.

And the paradox is, we are enough right now, with every step along the way, taken and not taken.

Until I “find my voice,” I will raise the one I have. With gratitude that I am enough.

The Grail Castle (reprise)

[Note: Originally posted in a stuck-in-the-mud blog on August 28, 2011. I love the photo and the sentiment.]

The thought that came to me in meditation today: Lead with your spiritual life. Something has to be first.

Retreat into your spiritual home: the Grail Castle as Joseph Campbell described it. There nurture your spirit, the power within. Then act, create, out of that still place.

~ Rod MacIver/Heron Dance

herondancebird

Heron Luminescence Sketch – Early Painting 20 / Rod MacIver [www.herondance.org/originals]

Ok, so here goes (reprise)

[Note: I wrote this post on another blog I started … on July 23, 2011! I posted once more a month later, then nothing. Interesting timing, considering I am about to begin a weeklong pop up challenge to “Get Back to Creating” with Jennifer Louden. I’m carrying this over here both to condense and to remind myself I can always begin again.]

white butterfly small

A Pale Beauty Moth, photographed at the former Leaven Center in Lyons, Michigan

First blog, first post. Eliminating that blank white page that sometimes scares a writer to death.

I read this on Jennifer Louden’s blog today. There is more to it, but here is what grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me til my teeth chattered. (Chattered? Is that the right word? World English Dictionary: ( intr ) (of the teeth) to click together rapidly through cold or fear. Italics mine. Yes, that would be the right word.)

Says Jen:

Fantasy robs you of this life that is being lived here right now which is far better than any fantasy ever could be; it robs you of the ability to trust yourself and develop your natural gifts which then robs the world of you and your badly needed service.

We need desire + reality to change our world. We won’t create that change if we, the creative leaders of the world, keep waiting for what we are meant to do to arrive, preferably on a silver platter, stuffed with cash and accolades and 150% money back guarantee.

Wow.

Yup, I needed to read this today. That’s me, trying to figure it out while waiting for my grand purpose to be made clear to me. Really, it’s just another excuse for not trusting myself, my gifts, and my truth.

Time to wade in.

I procrastinate. Or, rather, I used to.

Larch, 2017

I noticed this new growth on the larch tree in the front yard this spring.*

I launched this site in April 2014. Yes. Three years ago. Three. Since then, nothing.

My fellow procrastinators may resonate with this. I thought I had a great idea, but then I wasn’t sure exactly how to proceed. What to write about in these posts. How often. Whether what I wrote would be mundane. Whether anyone would care. I caved to self-doubt, the “what-ifs,” as I am prone to do.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog. I’ve been in the company of fellow writers in our weekly writing group at the local coffee shop, and at two others at one of the nearby state prisons – writers who are creating daily, who are publishing. Writers who are writing, following their bliss, doing the hard work, because writing is hard.

Then there’s me. Sure, I’ve been writing. But not following my bliss, not pushing through, not doing what is hard and scary. Not like they are.

I’m not jealous. I’m inspired.

This morning I reread the initial “About Me” post here, and reminded myself what I envisioned for YSM | ink in the first place. I wanted it to be a place where I could claim my voice, help others claim theirs, be a witness, tell stories. And yes. This still is my passion.

In the three years since I began this blog, I have made my mantra: “Progress, not perfection.” It is key to recovering from procrastination brought on by suffocating perfectionism, but it’s a journey. In the last few months, I’ve also been working on noticing. Paying attention. Approaching everything I encounter with curiosity, rather than fear and judgment.

I wonder what I will discover as I write here.

Can’t wait to find out.

*”Often, in Eurasian shamanism, the “world tree” is depicted as specifically a larch tree.” [Wikipedia]  Who knew?