Saturday, July 23, 2011

Guest Post: Finding My Way Home

For my own encouragement and yours: From time to time, I'll be featuring guest posts on how people keep going in the face of difficulties.    The first of these, by poet Wendy Brown-Báez, speaks of how the communal aspects of poetry gave her shelter in a time of unimaginable loss.

It has been said that poetry can save us. I learned the truth of this only through tragedy.  In a place of extremity, I discovered that language can bring to light what is beyond words.  In the process, it returns us back to ourselves. When my partner and then later, my son, died from suicide, it was poetry that threw me a lifeline and pulled me in from the tumult. I thought I would drown in the emotional storms, but poetry floated me back to shore.

In 2002, I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my partner, Michael, who was bi-polar and increasingly unstable. He spoke of suicide daily; one night, he read me the suicide notes he had composed. I belonged to a women’s poetry group and as I poured my frustration and fears onto the page, these women became my best friends.

I urged Michael to attend Write Action, a writing support group for those coping with illness. One week, when he was out of town, I attended in his place. In this safe environment, I could express myself with complete honesty.  I kept coming back. As I wrote about my anguish, my rose colored glasses began to fall away. Gradually I saw that Michael didn’t want to be saved.

I lost my dynamic, affectionate companion and I also lost the grey pall of depression. A burst of creativity swept through me. In my determination to speak my truth, I produced a poetry CD. As I traveled and performed, audiences held me in their rapt attention. It was a powerful form of communion.

But I soon faced another crisis, the death of my youngest son. Shattered, I was unable to meditate or to pray or to write, the practices that had held me so firmly while grieving Michael’s death. And yet, since both writing groups were my friends, my support system, I returned to them. I thought I could at least distract myself from my unbearable despair.

Once the pen was in my hand, it was automatic to put it to paper. I wrote about my pain and shock, memories and regrets. The writing deepened, became raw, vulnerable and real. It amazes me how often writing makes me aware that gifts can be found in tragedy.

Time doesn’t heal but those
small actions of living--
the spoon of soup, the footsteps
through the park, the quick farewell
before more damage is done—these take
away the direct attention.

 ....This is a STUPID STUPID
STUPID death—no I won’t
stop screaming it—I blame
God as well and I don’t care if
there are millions lost
in the war or that children are
being gunned down as I
write. I am talking about
a death that did not have to be.

This death has teeth, they bite at my
insides, they have excavated a
hole in my womb.

--from Finding the Way Home
 I moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2006 and created a bilingual poetry performance for Día de los Muertos. As my performance partner and I called out the various names of Lady Death (La Muerte) back and forth across the stage and the audience lit candles for their departed, I realized that Death comes for all of us. For me to accept death as another phase of life, one that touches us all, was healing. Later, as I wrote about my anger and my guilt, I understood that my story was a story: that I didn’t have to hold onto it and keep it, I could share it and release it. I felt I could be a voice for others. The recently published transparencies of light is a collection of women’s voices, some in challenging circumstances. For example, Ahmed’s Mother is a mother’s keening for a son who has been killed by a bomb. While she is fictional, her voice arose from my experiences of living amongst women like her.  I have earned the right to be her voice; I know her rage and her anguish.

Poetry has transformed my suffering into a work of art with beauty and meaning. Language is how we connect to each other.  By sharing language with open hearts, we step out from the abyss of our essential solitariness. From that perspective we see that we are held, all together, in a web of light.

 Wendy Brown-Báez is the creator of Writing Circles for Healing writing workshops. She received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants to teach writing workshops for at risk youth. Wendy has performed her poetry from Chicago to Mexico, and her poetry and prose have been published in numerous literary journals such as Wising Up Press Anthologies, The Chrysalis Reader, Mizna, Minnetonka Review, Interfaithings and We’Moon Datebooks. She is the author of a full-length collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, 2009), and a chapbook transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, 2011). 

For more information or to purchase books:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Post Coming This Weekend

One of my preoccupations has to do with the incredible survival ability of human beings--and, specifically, how artists keep going when jobs consume, health fails, crises hit.  This weekend I will be privileged to run a guest post by poet Wendy Brown-Baez, who writes about how poetry rescued her in a time of great personal tragedy.

Check in later to hear from Wendy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Procrastination for Breakfast

Yesterday morning, I heard my neighbors chatting on their deck and smelled their good breakfast smells.  I felt a little envious of their laid-back approach to weekends, so instead of jumping into the work I had going, I decided to sit on the deck with a mug of tea and the local paper.  

But here's the thing:  Reading the local color, I discovered several...typos.  Before I knew it, I was lasering through articles, highlighting errors, and planning a trip to the newspaper editor's office to convince him that he ought to hire me as a proofreader.  Regular income, however small!  What a concept! 
I must be explaining something.

Before I knew it, I was...WORKING. Saturday morning, and the brain was grinding, the pencil circling .    My neighbors were still lazily chatting. Okay, they were chatting in Russian, and they're both scientists, so for all I know they were hashing out theories about DNA and inter-office brain chemistry, but they SOUNDED lazy.  

People with regular jobs have it so easy, I thought. Their weekends are weekends.  (my neighbors get in their cars to go to work.) Freelancers like me never stop working.  I can't sit on the deck with a freakin' newspaper without...

You get the picture.  Later I learned the truth: My neighbor's job is so stressful that when she wakes up on a weekend, her brain is madly whirring with all the household stuff she can't get to.  "I make myself sit out on the deck," she told me later, "Otherwise I'd never relax."  Actually, she admitted, "I'm procrastinating. It's hard to face all the household stuff."  

I say, let's hear it for procrastination. If we have to make ourselves sit in the dappled shade for half an hour on Saturday morning, it's gift to ourselves.  And to our work--T. S. Eliot spoke of the "necessary laziness" of the poet, a notion that could greatly benefit all of us.  It takes courage to put the pencil down without the distraction of electronic devices; to turn your back on the urgent and spend unshaped time alone with yourself or someone you love.  If all you do is what you have to do, you'll miss the universe.
"I am moved by fancies that are curled/Around these images, and cling:  The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing."  From Eliot's Four Quartets

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Care and Feeding of Procrastination

This is not a lecture about procrastination.  We all avoid in different ways, anyhow.  I am a non-traditional procrastinator.  Being a restless soul, when it comes to writing, I can fill pages easily. I OCD-edly revise; I once worked on fiction while one of my kids was throwing a tantrum not twenty feet away.  

In my life, avoidance looks like productivity.  I sometimes fill pages to avoid the harder task of examining where a story is going.  Sometimes the hardest thing is to Not-Write; to wait, to trust the brain's hidden wisdom. 

Whether you're like me or a more garden-variety procrastinator, the cure is the same: Focus on small progress and do what you can.  Doing a little bit is better than doing nothing. Today at my Cape Cod writing retreat, my  task is to find the single word/phrase that drives the main character through the plot of my novel.  (Much as in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants one thing: To go home.)  My goal of coming up with a single phrase is "enough" for a days' work. It's more than enough. My whole plot hangs on that, and I'll save myself a whole lotta rewriting once I nail this.  

Yeah, it would have made sense to focus on this before writing several drafts of the book. I feel kind of foolish, actually.  But if I let that feeling segue into avoidance, it can become a black hole.  

There are always valid reasons to procrastinate.  But whether the issue is sitting down to write at all or finishing a story, starting with a few steps can lead you home.  

Monday, July 4, 2011



And now, the results of the Bloggers Clearinghouse Contest!  (A little late, but I'm currently at Very Cool Writers retreat where email access is not included.)

Lucy Mueller, now of former college student status (good luck in Hollywood, Lucy) is our near winner and will soon be receiving a fabulous prize found in a kitchen drawer.  Lucy identified a punctuation glitch; it was not The Contest Error, however.

Rich and Torrey, valiant efforts.

THE ACTUAL TYPO was identified by Catherine Stine, noted YA author and Manhattanite: In the tag below the post of 6/27 I wrote "Jerry Garcian" instead of  "Jerry Garcia."  Catherine, your prize will be arriving soon by passenger pigeon.

I know. The setup was misleading. But if contests were easy to win, would the lottery system be a bazillion-dollar industry?
Jerry, do you care that I misspelled your name?

Next Post: The Care and Feeding of Procrastination