Category: The Process of Writing

underpetalsWhen I finished the last chapter of the novel draft I’ve been working on, I took a walk on a trail I used to know very well. Things have changed. I pushed through sage, oak and manzanita, whose leaves, branches, and even roots have made the path nearly invisible, but I didn’t mind. Loving the smell of native plants close to my face, I thought, perhaps, it’s best the trail is now so overgrown. I stopped at a point where I have sometimes gotten lost in the past. Wilderness still exists, and this gives me hope.

I returned home to read the last paragraphs of the novel once again. Will these words survive another draft, if there is one? At the time I wrote the ending, I find myself, unexpectedly, crying. If emotions are transient movements, then, does that create the best exit for the book?

That night, I woke up before 5:00 am with a word on my lips from the novel manuscript, and I knew from which chapter the word came. The word came to me, because the word was the wrong word. I was acutely aware, in that moment, why I had been writing and editing so intensely. I wanted to hold the novel inside my being like a poem. Each word in a poem carries water. With the novel such an endeavor has not been totally successful, but the intention to do so was there, nevertheless.

A Novel Excerpt:

             I do not talk about the part of last night’s vision that appeared to foretell a meeting with phoenix. I don’t feel the need to try to explain….Instead, other words come out. ‘Thank you everyone for coming. I had a dream last night. In the dream, there was a part where I saw nothing but light, and the light seemed to chant: I am coyote singing. I am the lion, the vulture, I am all that endures, all that roars, all that is strong, and, most of all, I am grateful to be alive.’ As I repeat these words, light shines around all the walls in the room, along the ceiling and along the shapes of the celebrants. I see myself standing inside the light.

Forthcoming Work The Process of Writing

photoblogI have been contemplating a problem with one of the characters towards the end of the novel. Eventually, I realized that the troublesome character faces similar challenges that I recognize from my youth. When I look back in my life, I see that self-knowledge has been hard won. The ability to self-reflect is a skill that has developed over time, and I am still working on it.

In examining this particular character’s evolution in the book, I am able to see my own life more clearly–areas of weakness, areas of strength and the constant need to keep learning. To see one’s own shortcomings is the first step. Insight cannot come when there is denial or a lack of effort to keep growing.

Now, I look forward to making necessary changes. My approach to working on the final draft of the novel has changed. New ideas have emerged. I celebrate that creative doors open the more I let go of tendencies to contract, to defend, or to be overwhelmed.

While I wait for the rest of the line edited copy of the manuscript, I have ordered my life as much as I can: Bills paid. Social needs and commitments met and enjoyed. I bought extra copy paper and a new gel ink pen. I returned the publisher’s contract.

Once the line edited pages arrived, reality sets in: many long days, the house cluttered with books and stacks of paper on every table surface. Still, I am excited to see improvement. I am happy to note evolution in clarity and purpose. And now I have three days to finish reworking the final chapters, and this draft will be done if the forces of spirit and grace choose to help me do so.

Forthcoming Work The Process of Writing

tallStackBooksDuring my college graduate years, I discovered a love for teaching. Much to my surprise I felt myself more alive in front of a classroom. I already knew I wanted to write, because I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to write a story or a poem in a lucid, dream-like state as words came pouring out.

So, when I realized I was not just the shy, indrawn person I thought I was as a result of having been assigned to give presentations to classrooms of fellow students, I had a new vision for my writing dream—teach during the school year and write in the summer. Now, I am living that vision. With my weekly teaching responsibilities much reduced for the summer, I am spending my days on the final draft of a novel scheduled for release next year.

When I received the line editor’s copy of the first 94 pages two weeks ago, it appeared to be a daunting task. Fortunately, I had already received her summary letter which gave me encouragement to move quickly through even a threat of paralysis.

Every day I feel consumed by old draft and research boxes, the line editor’s questions and suggested changes, which I know to be helpful and clarifying, but which take some pondering as well as further research. I have awakened during the night more than once with additional questions or, more rarely, with possible answers. The subject matter, also, is emotionally intense, and I am very grateful, at such times, for my background in yoga and my meditation skills. Today, a yoga teacher friend came for brunch and tea, and we did asanas (yoga postures) together. I had not planned to do that, but it was perfect. We both felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards, and I was ready for another work session.

My current situation, as writer and teacher, though it fulfills the vision I had for myself many years ago, as is often the case, also has some unforeseen consequences. Loving what I am doing when I write, I may lose track of time. I may forget to take a break, or to drink enough liquids. It is important for me to keep up my yoga practices, a good exercise program and to maintain a healthy social life.

To be passionate about one’s work feeds the soul. To stay balanced feeds sincerity, which reminds me of one of my favorite raja yoga sutra’s:

           Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to…in all earnestness

–THE YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJILI

Forthcoming Work The Process of Writing

 

calmblossum

 

The poems in the series called, “Six Movements” in Wife of the House are, for me, an example of how poetry “pokes holes” in consciousness, which I mentioned in my blog called, “The Book Release Reading.” After a night under the stars in a heightened state of consciousness, having just read The Kabir Book: Ecstatic Poems by Kabir, Versions by Robert Bly, it seemed as if a veil had blown away. Clear space opened, and then rapture

…arrives
electric in the red river
reason shatters

from Movement 2

apricotblossumexplosionRapture is not about a feeling of reward one might get after a goal is achieved, or a desire is fulfilled. Rapture is more like a surprise explosion and is often interpreted as an intoxication, or even “over joyfulness;” or it is seen as a trance-like state.

For me, rapture is an expression of consciousness moving with great force toward new understanding and insight. In that sense, rapture isn’t self-indulgent, as some might think, but it serves a greater purpose. In its highest form, perhaps, rapture may move one closer to a state the yogis call “samadhi,” or enlightenment.

 At midnight it goes
that boundary between my arm
and the breeze

from Movement 5

Jack Kornfield, in Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, talks about rapture as one of the “Seven Factors of Enlightenment,” and as a process of “learning to live and practice with a light heart.” Once that happens, I think, the real work of integration can begin. Though rapture stands apart in its truth, beauty and intensity, my teacher and guide, Swami Satchidananda Yogiraj, often urged that the benefits of our attainments be used to “lead a dedicated life,” meaning to lead a life that serves a higher purpose than one’s own selfish interest.

The Process of Writing

In the past, when I won a prize, published my work, or had a book accepted for publication, expectations rose, but things did not always go well. It reminds me of my teacher, Swami Satchidananda, who often said, “make no appointments and you will have no disappointments.” Disappointment, I have noticed can sometimes lead to bitterness.

I do not consider myself to be a bitter person. When my American Sabbath school teacher called me “a martyr for my religion,” I did not connect with what she was talking about. I was not aware of holding resentment for the brutalities I experienced as a child born in Europe during the last world war.

The problem with bitterness is that, for me, it became like a secretly poisoned drink where the bitter taste could not easily be detected. Eventually, I realized I was bitter about two books that had been accepted for publication but didn’t make it through to the final process.

I was also bitter about the sense of failure I had regarding my teacher, who after learning about a poetry prize I had won, congratulated me warmly, as if he had always know I would do him proud and said, “Write, write…publish.” However, I felt for some years I was not able to live up to his words of encouragement.

One of my favorite poems that personifies a personal experience of going beyond negative patterns (such as bitterness) in Wife of the House is “Lila’s Love:

Gazing beyond plank and beam
beyond floorboard and frame
of self she twirls
to the core of eucalyptus
 

On the other side of bitterness, I discovered joy, especially, joy as a great healer. Recently, I heard a conversation and could not help but respond:

 Overheard

“Are you happy?”
“What about?”
Happiness is nothing
to be about; joy is
everything.

I am grateful these days to be aware of how unacknowledged bitterness, resentments and disappointments can create an atmosphere of insecurity and a lack of fulfillment. Joy, on the other hand, is free from all such contractions.

 Gudrun

The Process of Writing

 

addictionbanner copy

When it was suggested I address the alcoholism issue that is so much a part of the foundational background of Wife of the House, I was reluctant.

In the poem, “Dream,” I created an imaginary camel ride in order to release anger about the disease of alcoholism in my family:

…grinning he humps towards a steep bank
for a drink at the bar

I pull in reins urging
don’t leave the caravan…

It was a long time before I achieved the detachment it took for me to write the poem near the end of the book, “Song to End Estrangement.”

How private pain is
may it heal and and soften
the rough grain
of our lives…

…may I be freed from that aching need…
healed from that heartbreaking pause
before I depart.

When my ex-husband was on his death bed due to alcohol induced neurological failure and before he could no longer speak, I came to the hospital to visit him. He grabbed my hand and said, “I have always loved you.” Years of pain eased in this one encounter; still, it doesn’t mean I have forgotten the terrible damage the disease of alcoholism has caused the entire family.

My personal journey consists of releasing guilt, shame and regret to a power higher than myself. From the intention to surrender and to accept the things I cannot change, comes relief and the space to practice gratitude. Gratitude was not always easily available to me, but now that it is, I much appreciate its tremendous healing power.

During the time I was writing the poems in Wife of the House, I remember a water heater accident when my hair caught on fire. By the time I arrived at a twelve-step meeting later that week, I had accumulated a long list of complaints about how much misery I was experiencing. It was gently suggested that I might try to practice gratitude. My mind did not respond well. Gratitude? Gratitude? How can I be grateful for the terrible things going on?

It took years of persistent effort to realize how my judgments and opinions about my problems were the problem. For me, to be mindful, to be a yogini meant changing what I needed to change with wisdom and also finding a way to be with what I am not able to change, rather than losing myself to reactivity.

Gudrun

Personal Updates The Process of Writing