Category: The Process of Writing

The publisher of Raincloud Press recently sent me a review of my poetry book, Wife of the House, saying she thought I might “enjoy it.” The review had been posted on LibraryThing, a website for librarians.

I was pleased by a thoughtful and erudite discussion of poetry in general and also appreciated the reference to Wife of the House as “spiritual writing” and what the reviewer called “the backdrop of second-wave feminism.” I was intrigued and more fully understood, perhaps for the first time, why the book did not find an audience earlier.

The broad perspective and historical overview the reviewer exhibited in her piece was not available when I first tried to publish my collection. Decades ago, I read from another manuscript called Frozen Souls at an UC Santa Barbara event. A playwright contacted me afterwards, asked to read my entire manuscript and spoke to me about turning it into a play. Frozen Souls is a collection of poems that tell the story of two people, a girl and a man. The voice of the girl grows into a woman, and the male voice remains that of a mature man.

The playwright wished to change the male character into a woman for the play. At the time, I had already formulated a direction which the LibraryThing reviewer called “different from the culture of feminism rooted in the Friedan era.” I had chosen, which the reviewer correctly pointed out, to explore “feminist and metaphysical themes” in order to find a healing path that does not exclude anyone.

As a result, the Frozen Souls project did not move forward. I regretted this, on occasion, thinking, perhaps, I was getting it wrong and that I was out of step with the times. The current review gives me renewed faith that spiritual growth and the evolution of feminist consciousness do not need to be antagonistic issues. Put another way, and as Sri Swami Satchidananda repeated many times, “Paths are Many, Truth is One.”

 

 

(Frozen Souls is a collection of poetry scheduled for publication in 2016)

The Process of Writing

lightfiltersNovember 25, 2014

Late morning light filters through green oak leaves that throw a hue on the walls inspiring me towards a pale yellow paint I have yet to bring to the room.

Inspiration and manifestation are two different ends of the spectrum. Where is that barely turquoise accent wall I’ve been wanting? Where is the completed manuscript about my teacher, Dear Gurudev?

And how is it, by the way, whenever I write about my teacher, the early drafts seem to need so much help. In general, I realize, I’m a many-drafts type of writer.

At an author’s luncheon, I once heard someone, sitting across the table, say, “I never do more than 3 drafts.” How lucky she is, I remember thinking, to be able to do that. I never could do just 3 drafts, I wish I had that gift.

There are exceptions: A writer’s journal has few corrections. Perhaps, that’s why it is a mirror-to-the-soul type of thing.

Ideas percolate, but something stands in the way. Several shelves and piles of projects wait to end.

November 27, 2014

The journal is a bits and pieces medium, or at times it is the process of remembered videos around Thanksgiving holidays gone by, especially those before the passing of my parents. We are alone this year.

Perhaps, there is a new story needing to be born, even with old ones not finished. Circumstances change one’s priorities, sometimes, like that recent Gallery visit, seeing beautiful bowls with crows that sit on the rims.
The Love of Crow

It was a long time ago, but I still vividly remember a fearless creature, its beak seemed to point me in a fierce direction. I was hesitant. I had been writing for a contest and had arrived at a stopping point punctuated by insecurity about my writing being too stark. Compelling with a bold, steady gaze, he looked down at me from a wall next to the beach where I had gone to discover additional inspiration.beachinspiration

It seemed I heard him with words I could understand and which quickly manifested on the page like a gift straight from universal consciousness. I was able to finish the piece I had been working on, and that crow helped me win “The Dream” contest.

Today, I also remember the saying, “Eat crow.” I understand that to mean needing to do penance after having been proven wrong about something. Ah, I realize, the crow made me eat crow.

I think of recent writing work, classes, Thanksgiving, an event that will soon to require extensive preparations. I lean back in my chair and see a point of light with no discernible source.

The light comes from a pink quartz crystal. The rest of the room is in shadow, except for afternoon sunlight visible a distance down the hall–a different color light, more yellow, through a tall, west-facing window in the dining room. The warm patches on white wall fade, but light from the rose quartz still calls out to me.

Beyond the English garden building, the bamboo fence shines so strongly that it reminds me of a soon-to-appear-sunset. Time to start dinner.

When I sit down again, I have missed the sunset. It has turned very dark outside the sliding glass door–the color of crow.

Inside, the rose quartz still shines. This has happened before. I sat in in the dark, several weeks ago, and light came out of the pink quartz glowing as from an unknowable source. I remember feeling uplifted.

darkandlight

This time, I do a test. I turn off the kitchen light, then the hall light which I had turned on during the food preparations. Nothing happens until the hall light goes off. The quartz, shaped in a circle, glows around its circumference and then goes dark. Crow.

The play of opposites. Door of mystery. A willingness to be amazed, to be curious and, at the same time, not to know.

The Process of Writing

SunsetPaintedCavePoets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson have appealed to me for the metaphysical nature of their work, their innovative use of language and spirit of independence. I admire in Sylvia Plath’s poetry what has been called her “control of intolerable pain.”

Theodore Roethke’s grandfather was a Prussian, as was my maternal grandfather. I was born in the home of my grandparents in East Prussia, and when I met the poet Kenneth Rexroth in the 1970s, he said that my poetry was very “Prussian.” At the time, I didn’t get what he meant by that. However, when I review Roethke’s work, I am still drawn, as I was from the first, by his wry approach to nature as a great clarifying force.

Discovering the mystical poets such  as Kabir and Rumi was very exciting for me. They both have the quality of being refreshingly irreverent and, at the same time, intensely spiritual. I find that these mystical poets’ ability to describe the strange and awesome world of ecstasy to be a continuing source of inspirations.

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