write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy


I’ve been suffering from a case of input overload lately.

With a combination of blogs and news sites, watching a lot of  online videos and (God bless it) Netflix, listening to audiobooks and podcasts… I have come down with a classic case of what Julia Cameron calls “over-reading”.  There is so much information coming at me at any given time that I scarcely have a moment to create my own material.  Listening to every voice but my own makes it really hard for me to complete anything.

It is with this in mind that I am committing to a self-imposed retreat from information.   Because of the nature of my job, it’s difficult right now to do a full-on separation from reading (as Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way), but the guidelines for my retreat will be this:

For one week, I will avoid

  • watching television
  • listening to audiobooks
  • listening to podcasts
  • reading blogs
  • reading periodicals and magazines
  • reading books

I don’t know if looking at that list scares the bejeezus out of you like it does me, but I think it’s important to do scary things sometimes, so I’m going to just deal with it.

My exceptions will be:

  • reading pieces submitted by my fellow writing group members
  • reading comments on my blogs
  • reading emails
  • reading work-related material

So if you need to get in touch with me via the written word, those are your options.  I’m hoping that, a week from now, my system will be rebooted and I’ll be ready to dive into my work more deeply.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed with information?

Have you ever needed to “reboot”?  How did you do it?

Interview with Lyrical Venus

A couple of weeks ago I did a half-hour interview with Heather from the show “Lyrical Venus” at KRUU in Fairfield, Iowa.  KRUU is a radio station that is volunteer-run and solar powered.  How cool is that?!

We talked about the writing process, the new album, this blog, and songwriting in general.  I had such a great time.

The interview aired last Tuesday and now the podcast is up for those of you who missed it.

Listen to it right here.

Thanks Heather!

Friday Poetry: W.S. Merwin

In honor of our new Poet Laureate in the United States, I wanted to post a poem by W.S. Merwin.

Merwin has lived in Hawaii since 1976, and practices Buddhism and Environmentalism with equal dedication.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone.  Perhaps go out on a walk and identify some trees.

Native Trees

by W. S. Merwin

Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade
Were there trees
where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew

Practice makes…better.

Something really wonderful has been happening to me since I decided to sign up for the 21*5*800 project.  Through the community and the daily practices of yoga & writing, I have been surprising myself.   I’ve been writing different types of things and revisiting long lost creative pursuits.   I even made a drawing, which is something I have almost never attempted.

On impulse, at the end of a long day, I got out some chalks and paper and just followed my instincts.    It was freeing, and fun, and felt really good.  (I’ve always liked any activity where I can be a little messy and it’s totally allowed.)

I don’t really know why I never did a lot of visual art (or even doodling) growing up.   I do know that I became easily frustrated at not being good at something right away, at having to practice, and practice, and practice…

Practice meant boring, tedious exercises.  It meant frustration.  It meant doing something I hated in order to be better at something I loved.  It was suffering & sacrifice.

Through a combination of new habits, I’ve become friendly with the word “practice” again.  Instead of thinking of practice as a means to an end, I think of it as the process itself.  Practice is just what I do.  I love that the habit of  doing yoga regularly is called a Yoga Practice.  The emphasis is not on becoming the Best at a particular set of poses but rather on being patient and listening to yourself, being fully present in your body.  Some days, it all goes right.  Other days, I’m lucky to get through the whole class.  The benefits of doing it arise either way.

Similarly, my daily morning pages are a Writing Practice.   The goal of writing several pages a day is not actually to create a cohesive piece that I can publish or perform… that comes later.   These pages are for listening to my intuition, for being present, and letting my mind wander and rest.  By allowing myself that practice every day, I am more likely to feel up to working on  new writing for public consumption.

The combination of yoga & writing practices do not necessarily make me more skilled at writing or yoga… they just make me better.   I feel more whole, more in touch, more receptive.  I feel better.

What makes you better?

Friday Poetry – The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I won’t be online today because I’m headed for a much needed day at the lake with some woman friends!
Since we’ve been talking on Twitter about retreats and peaceful, safe spaces for writing, I thought I’d combine that with my lake trip and share with you a wonderful poem by W.B. Yeats.

Enjoy and have a lovely weekend!

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Sunset at Lake Isle of Innisfree by Connormacnessa

Collecting Encouragement

Bindu’s post today had a way of cracking me open just as she describes the yoga practice has been doing for her, and it reminded me that I wanted to acknowledge a practice I have started recently which may help some of you along this journey of recovery.

(And I do think of this challenge as a call to recovery.  Most of us have spent a long time not listening to ourselves and the opening up that Bindu describes in her post is available to all of us.  What is it you’ve kept locked away?  What connections are you missing between mind/body/spirit?)

For a few months now, I have been consciously noting a few things that I am grateful for every day.   Before I fall asleep, I go over them in my head, no matter how large or  small they seem:

I am grateful for the five dollar bill I found hidden in my glove compartment which allowed me to treat myself to a latte.

I am grateful for my beautiful friend who offers perspective when I need it.

I am grateful for the way my pug made me laugh when I was feeling sad.

I am grateful for the unwavering, generous love of the Universe.

After these thoughts, I can drift to sleep a bit more peacefully than I might have if I ended my day by checking email or complaining.  Some days, it’s not easy to come up with a list, and other days the gratitude spills out of me like a fountain.   As practices that open us up tend to do, this one has led to some surprising changes in me, and to some other new habits.

Recently, I started noticing that my thoughts of gratitude were trending more and more toward acknowledging anyone who has supported my art lately.   As I have done that, I have noticed that more and more people seem to be cheering me on.  So, I started formally collecting Encouragers!

Every time someone gives me a compliment about my art, sends me a private email saying my music or writing has touched them, tells me they love my voice, or tells me they believe in what I am doing, I write it down.   I have a folder on my computer now where I am collecting these comments.   Soon I plan to create an area on my home  office wall where I can post them and see them whenever I sit at my desk.

Does this sound egotistical?  Maybe it is.   But keep in mind that we are usually so quick to acknowledge any negative statements people make about us and our creativity as true, and we rarely do the same for the positive statements.   Why should I choose to believe every negative thing and ignore it every time someone supports me?

Now, I don’t know if it’s really that there are more people saying wonderful, self-esteem-boosting things,  or if I’m finally open to noticing it instead of brushing it off, but either way, the effect feels amazing.  I am reminded that there are people who believe in what I am doing, and it makes it just that much easier to believe in it myself.

I highly recommend this practice if you need a boost in your self-esteem and need to gain some faith in what you’re doing.  You will see that there are way more people supporting you than you could have imagined, or that you allowed yourself to see.    What I noticed almost immediately is that almost all the negative comments were coming from one or two sources, whereas the Encouragers are coming from all sorts of places and people.  It has made me able to see that the Critical Voice wears very few faces, and the Encouragers encompass so much more of my experience.   Considering that, I find the Encouragers a more trustworthy and believable team.

Gradually, I feel those spiky places in me that have been wounded by my Critical Voice start to scab over, then soften. (C.V. is different from Internal Editor Steve…. my Critical Voice is comparable to the character Bridget Pilloud hilariously calls V.o.D. the Impaler) Eventually, new growth will cover those places, and while I will always have a scar to remind me of where I’ve been, they won’t be tender to the touch anymore.

And for everyone who has encouraged me so far and continues to be my best backup:  Thank You.  I am endlessly grateful to you, I remember you and chances are, your words will be up on my wall soon.

So Tell Me: Do you have Encouragers that you haven’t acknowledged yet?  Why don’t you think they are telling you the truth?   What would it take for you to believe the wonderful things people say about you?

Today is my "Before"…

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  – Anais Nin

This morning I woke up with the thought, “Today is my Before…”

I was thinking of those makeover shows where they always show a before & after set of pictures of the person or room being transformed, and how it’s always a dramatic juxtaposition.   There are a lot of things about my life that I feel are on the verge of that kind of transformation.  One of those things is my physical body.

I reached my highest weight (ever!) this weekend.  This is after months of losing ten pounds, then gaining it back, then losing it again.  The cycle is maddening.  Some time ago I heard that extra weight is a form of self-protection.   It is a way for us to hide from ourselves and also prevent taking risks.  That thought really resonates with me right now.  I’ve been hiding from myself in a way for the last few years.  In some ways I have grown more aware and more in tune with my intuition, and in other ways I’ve been content to remain stagnant.

When I was in my early 20s  I received a lot of attention from men, much of it unwanted.  I was also doing theater and just starting to play shows and thus was entering into an industry where appearance is often key in judging a person’s “marketability”, even before talent.  I think maybe my rejection of those standards and judgments made me try to “protect” myself by not putting any real thought into my appearance.  While others had personal trainers, nutritionists, dermatologists on call… I just stuck my hair up in a ponytail and threw on jogging pants.  I was comfortable.  I was safe.

Comfort only serves us to a certain point.  It feels good, it is effortless, it sometimes includes drinks with little umbrellas in them.  In our culture, we sometimes need some extra comfort and rest to do our souls good. After a point, though, we just become like the Lotus Eaters, wasting our lives away and hiding from our real purpose.   I’d become apathetic, lounging in comfort and hoping my purpose would forget I was there so I could continue living without awareness.

Strength, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Strength, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Some of the practices I’ve taken up in the last year have brought me back to awareness.  Now that I see more clearly, it has become impossible for me to unsee myself.  I know now that I am living in a body that is not my own, that I have prevented some of my own self-expression because of fear and wanting to remain unseen.   I am not the same girl I was back then, I know myself better and have enough confidence to stand by my beliefs and desires and not be influenced by outside forces.  I want to be like the Strength card in the Tarot.   I love this example from the Shadowscapes Tarot deck, because it is clear that the real strength is in the young woman, not in the lion.  See how she gently holds his mouth and stands confidently?   She carries all of this power with grace.   I’m keeping this image close at hand as I start on a new chapter of my well-being.

Today, I’m beginning a new fitness program.   I’ll be starting a two week boot-camp to see if I like the program, and then hopefully continuing indefinitely.   I know that I’ve been building inner strength these past few months, so it’s time to work on the outer strength now.   At this point, it is more painful to remain comfortable than it is to succeed.

Monkey Mind

Check email.  Check Twitter.  Read blog post.  Refresh Google Reader.  Work. Check email.  Look at YouTube video a friend sent.  Work.  Write email.  Chat with a friend.  Get up and get more coffee.  Read Twitter feed.  Click on every link in Twitter feed.  Work.  Repeat.

The above is an example of my typical routine on a day when I have been overtaken by Monkey Mind.

The idea of monkey mind in Buddhism refers to the way that our minds like to jump from thought to thought the way that a playful monkey jumps from limb to limb on a tree. There is no focus or stillness, no engaging with the present moment.  The Monkey Mind is constantly looking for new stimuli, new thoughts, new ways to distract from the present and focus on the past or the future instead.

One of the reasons I wanted to sign up for the 21*5*800 project is that I had slipped away from my yoga practice in the last few months and knew on some level how vital it is to my creativity.  In the past couple of weeks, especially, I’ve been running on “survival mode” instead of feeling engaged in my days.  The practices of yoga and meditation are efforts to “tame” the thought-monkey and get us to live more in the present tense. As such, they are perfect companions for me as I delve deeper into my creative practice.

With Vinyasa yoga, my body is constantly flowing from one pose to another.   By moving physically, I can focus my mind on the pose at hand in any given moment, rather than thinking about my day or worrying about something that’s coming up.   Because of the effort involved, I have no choice but to concentrate on what I am doing, rather than what I am thinking.   One of my old theater teachers was constantly talking to us about getting into our bodies… as a teenager, I didn’t really grasp what he meant, but I can see now how getting into your body, really feeling and being aware of your body, keeps you anchored in the present at all times — which is exactly where most performers want to be.

The other side of the practice is stillness.  At the end of a yoga session, we often stay in Savasana (corpse pose) for several minutes, to recover and relax and integrate the practice.   After all the physical exertion of yoga, as gentle as it can be, savasana seems like it would be a piece of cake.   For me, it is actually the most challenging part of the practice.

Once my body is done moving and I have to lie in stillness, the thoughts start coming back and there’s that Monkey Mind, jumping around.   At this point, though, it’s easier for me to have compassion for it, to look at it fondly and say, “Oh, you, get back over here,” and pat it on the head.   I can be more gentle with myself than I normally would, and just bring attention back to my breath and my body, feeling my muscles relax into the floor.

After several minutes of this (the monkey running off to play, and me gently but firmly bringing my attention back to the present), something lovely happens.   The thoughts seem to spread apart more.   There is space between each thing that pops up, and the urgency with which they demand my attention is released.  This feeling is so peaceful and filled with joy for me that I will often have to wipe away tears when I sit up at the end of a session.

The first time I did an Ashtanga yoga class was unforgettable.  The night was warm and clear, and my body was sore but blissed out.  I was proud of myself.  I drove home with the windows down and the radio off.   It was the first time I could remember in years that I had driven anywhere without the radio playing.   Silence.  Stillness.  Joy.

Do you allow yourself any freedom from your thoughts during the day?  If so, what’s your favorite way to do it?

Sometimes, you need to do something drastic.

This is one of those times for me.  When I get into a good groove, where I feel comfortable (and I am a creature who loves comfort) I tend to stop taking risks.  And risk is part of what creativity is all about.

When I get to this point, I start seeking out Helpers.   For me, Helpers are people who will give me a good kick in the ass.   People who inspire me, who challenge me, who make me see something differently.   When I’m all out of motivating myself, my Helpers come in and create the community support I need to keep going.   Bindu Wiles suddenly became one of my Helpers last week, with a big ole kick in the ass to offer.

I stumbled across Bindu’s project on Friday afternoon and signed up instantly.  I mean, instantly.  I didn’t even have time to go over the rant in my head that would usually ensue:

This is nuts! Who has time for this?  I am terrible at commitments, I would drop this thing in three days… Why would I even try to do it?  I like yoga but I suck at it, I’m not very prolific these days and 800 words is a lot.  Every day!   I mean, seriously?!

Nope.  Blame it on the Morning Pages I’ve been doing lately (which is typically done automatic-writing style) but my hands completely bypassed that part of my brain and signed the rest of me up without asking permission.  That internal monologue up there? It happened right after I signed up, but by then it was useless.   My name was on the list and I had committed myself to… well, I’ll let Bindu tell you:

On June 8th, (this coming Tuesday) I’d like you to join me for a community project online I’ve created called 21.5.800.

For 21 days, we’ll be doing 5 days of yoga a week and 800 words of writing per day. WAIT!

Don’t stop reading! Hear me out.

Here’s the deal;

THE WRITING: The writing can be ANYTHING. Memoir, blogs, business plans, essays, fiction, free-writing, letters,……..ANYTHING. The point is to get writing again daily and to have the boundaries and challenge of a daily word count to reach.

THE YOGA: There are several options for you to do the yoga portion of 21.5.800 5 times in 7 days.  Here are the options: 1. Go to a yoga class in your ‘hood. 2. Do a yoga dvd at home. 3. Take a 20-40 minute savasana* (see below) at home on the floor.

(You can read the rest of the post here:  my new project: 21.5.800)

So, does this sound like the kind of extra motivation you could use right now?  Do you like the idea of doing it with a big group of people instead of having to stay motivated all by yourself?     There’s still time to sign up!

Let me know if you decide to do it, and we’ll check in with each other here.  I’ll be posting entries about how the project is going for me starting tomorrow.