Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In preparation for February 1st--new slate and all that jazz--I've changed my working space from THAT:

To THIS-- for optimal Feng Shuei-age.

Proof that I actually got some writing done while at Wellspring

By Hand

I had never really believed that retreating from my computer, my television, my ipod, my usual desk and routines and bad habits would facilitate good writing. I thought I needed all that in order to write.

At first, my hand felt stiff and sore as I wrote, even though I used one of my most effortless and fluid fountain pens. Surely my hand couldn't keep up with my brain's barrage of imagery and great plotting. Surely I would lose ideas and feel frustrated, sketching notes down at best!


My brain slowed down and matched the rhythm of my hand. The words that came out seemed connected by a silver thread from my hand to the creative ether--they positively radiated light, they were so much different, like quicksilver. They didn't embarrass me the way so many first draft words do.

Then I was sure that I could only keep up an hour or two of writing per day, and what would I do with the rest of the time there? I just knew I was going to get bored. Saturday--the first full day--it rained, no it poured, ALL DAY. This was, of course, perfect, because it meant I could not go out and run around or dawdle outside in weak winter sun. I had to write. And, guess what? I wanted to write. Writing made more of itself. The more my pen scribbled ink, the more the ideas flowed. I didn't experience a lick of boredom.

Silence filled me. Fire get me burning.

Of course I have to thank the lovely Marlene for facilitating quiet in our little hobbit cabin.

That's Jodi Hottel on the left, Susan Bono in the middle and Marlene Cullen, mistress of my muse, on the right.

Monday, January 30, 2006

My weekend retreat:

The main building and cafeteria

My Hobbit Cabin--Yes, that's grass on the roof.

Proof I can build a fire

A river runs through it

Cactus in the wild

Bucolic setting

A mysterious sculpture

I went on my first ever writer's retreat this past weekend, to the same place where I'll be co-leading a writer's workshop in May. (Photos to follow when Blogger behaves later today). For two and a half days I wrote, sat in silence, read, wrote and wrote and wrote, and learned how to build and stoke a fire effectively. In fact, fire was so inspiring that not only did I get a haiku out of it, but the beginning of what feels like another novel and that has me so jazzed I could spit with joy. (there's an image for you!)

The Haiku:

In the quiet, fire
taught me how to make it burn
by unmaking myself

And here is a snippet from the new thing, which I'm calling "Little Alien," for the moment:

Some women in burn recovery (I was the only child) had doting husbands who came and stroked their wives' cheeks tenderly with a desperate, savior look in their eyes. Because they already knew their wives they could still see the beautiful woman within, remember her dimples or great cheekbones or strong chin, and recreate that face with their eyes closed.

Me? I was just the shiny little alien--I don't even know which of my parents I would have resembled more. There was only ever this shiny patchwork oval. The green eyes seemed silly, wasted after a time, like emeralds stuffed into a ratty old teddy bear. And the tightened skin had shrunk my smile, giving me a gloomy expression.

You couldn't do simple make-up on me, which my mother discovered the year I was pronounced "recovered" and brought to a family Easter party--almost two years after the fire. I'm sure I looked like something freakish in my mother's orange rouge and coral lipstick. She brushed on a suggestion of eyebrows, which made my eyes look surprised while my lips kept their forced grim line, made lurid with lipstick.

My cousins looked repulsed; the youngest took one look at me and burst into tears. Uncles talked around me, Aunts tried to force food on me, but I eventually crept away to my grandmother's rose garden and let the weak early spring sun--the hottest thing I could bear touching me--warm the scarred surface of my face.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

You are invited to attend the second annual

Creating Space Retreat
The Law of Attraction for Writers

May 12th through 14th
Wellspring Renewal Center, on the Navarro River, Mendocino County.

Writers of all genres and forms welcome.

Join writers Rebecca Lawton and Jordan Rosenfeld at Creating Space, a restorative retreat designed to help you attract the writing time, inspiration, and life that you aspire to lead.

This thoroughly enjoyable weekend fills quickly—enroll today! This year Rebecca and Jordan will be joined by presenters Colin Berry and Penelope LaMontagne.

At Creating Space we will share ways to set intentions, take inspired action, and investigate the “art of allowing.” Discover how sixteen seconds of directed intention each day can improve your life and your writing!

Wellspring's beautiful, private setting above the Navarro River offers the solitude to write and refill the creative well in the center’s many hideaways, by the river, and in the forest. The cost* includes food, lodging, and workshop.

For more information, please email Jordan at writelife(at) earthlink(dot)net
or email Rebecca at becca(at) beccalawton(dot)com.

To register send a $100 deposit (refundable until April 18) to: Rebecca Lawton, P.O. Box 654, Vineburg, CA 95487-0654.
* * * * *

*Cost for the weekend varies depending on choice of lodging (check one):

___Private room in lodge, $445 (limited availability; these fill fast!)
___Shared room in lodge, $395
___Shared rustic cabin, $375
___Tent cabin in the on-site campground (showers conveniently available), $375
___Your own tent in the Wellspring campground, $355
___Commuters, $335

Street Address:_______________________________________________

Following principles made popular by Esther and Jerry Hicks and the late Lynn Grabhorn, and expanded upon in Lawton and Rosenfeld's own forthcoming book, Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers and Other Inspired Souls, we will share presentations by accomplished writers and open creative channels to shape the writing lives we desire.

* * * *

Rebecca Lawton is an author, editor, and writing coach whose recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Orion, MORE, and Shenandoah. Her essays about rivers, whitewater guiding, and other natural wonders are collected in Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital Books). Visit her online at http://www.beccalawton.com .

Jordan Rosenfeld hosts Word by Word: Conversations with Writers on KRCB radio (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts). Her work appears in national and literary journals, and such publications as Common Ground, the Writer, Writer’s Digest, the St. Petersburg Times and on KQED’s The California Report. Read more at http://www.jordansmuse.blogspot.com .


Colin Berry is a writer, radio commentator, and journalist whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, on KQED and KRCB Radio, in Print, Artweek, and Wired magazines. He’s working on a book based on his four-part series that ran in SF Gate, titled “Urban Emigrants,” about moving from the city to the country. Find him at www.colinberry.net.

Penelope La Montagne is a resident poet for California Poets in the Schools; the former producer of Morning Haiku for KRCB Radio; producer of Poetry Café, a series of collaborative arts for community access television; and was the Healdsburg Poet Laureate for the years 2004-2005. Penelope La Montagne lives on the banks of the Russian River in northern California. She has published numerous collections of poetry, including River Shoes (Running Wolf Press).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Play with me!

The internet is a great place to play games, and I don't mean Grand Theft Auto or anything (can you play that online??). My friend Ellen Meister has given me a virtual "tag" to tell you 10 interesting facts about myself. I suspect the silent caveat is "little-known." This is hard. Stay tuned later for an essay from Lynn Freed, "Taming the Gorgon" out of her most recent book, Reading, Writing and Leaving Home.

10 Things you may not know about me

1. I enjoy soy sauce on avocado. (Soy sauce was the condiment of choice in my household as a kid).

2. My life was saved at the age of ten by my grandfather (Opa) who did the Heimlich on me as I choked on one of the little chocolate pastilles my Oma insisted I eat. (I should thank him for that again, eh?)

3. My father was born in Jerusalem, Israel. My grandparents met on a kibbutz when it was still Palestine. But I am the least Jewish person I know, forever having to shrug sadly and say, "sorry!" to the statement (which, I kid you not, I've gotten more than a dozen times), "You're one of OUR people." (I wish I was).

4. I have met the following celebrities in the following circumstances:
-The lady that played Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island in a Palm Springs hotel pool when I was 10. She swam with her head above water, but gave me her autograph.
-I encouraged singer Huey Lewis to buy the red sweatshirt, not the yellow after a fawning salesgirl held it up to him at a Gap in Marin county. He did!
-Deborah Santana (wife of Santana), Jill Eikenberry and the wife of one of the Metallica guys used to work out at a Mill Valley health club & spa where I worked.

5. In my former life as a massage therapist, I gave massages to: Margo Timmins, lead singer of the band The Cowboy Junkies, The Reverend Cecil Williams of the famous Glide Memorial Church in SF and a scary CIA guy, a woman who's entire tan peeled off under my hands, an autistic man.

6. I have had a shamanic clearing (sans peyote).

7. I have never seen a ghost.

8. I went to high school with one of Jerry Garcia's youngest daughters.

9. For about three months, when I was 12, I used to make myself pass out with my friend Simonetta for "the rush." (A piece of short fiction about this, titled "Breathless," will be live at Spoiled Ink Magazine in February).

10. **In one of my most shameful moments of my adult life, some years ago, in a very upset emotional state, I exceeded my drinking limits (which are very low to begin with) while with good friends. After I passed out (yes, went unconscious!), they poured water on my pants and took photographs of me to make it look as though I had wet myself. **Caveat--I am not a big drinker! This was a rare event and I feel the need to exhonerate myself of a bad reputation before I get one.

Who's next?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A short, odd little piece of my fiction "Last Nerve," has been published at one of my favorite magazines: Opium. Check it out.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Decisions, Decisions.

Well, great big life-altering decisions are not easy to make. Not at all. Just when you feel sure of one thing, other ideas float through your brain.

The idea of running off to a new place is tantalizing, isn't it? Starting fresh in an area not overrun with traffic, free of the bustle of civilization. Getting to be a new person to new people. A place so affordable (if you have a decent job, which most don't) that you would never be able to spend all you earn. Yes, it's tantalizing, I admit. I fear it's too tantalizing.

But I'd love to hear why it appeals to you. What would you do?


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Montana, Part Two (part one, below, has text, part two is just more photos. Click on photos to enlarge and see closer):

This house isn't bad right? Keep in mind it's across the street from...

...these little beauties

There's always the Shanty Lounge to imbibe your troubles away...

...or the Dairy Queen

But you have to admit...the scenery is pretty spectacular

They don't call it Big Sky Country for nothing

Montana--Part One (more photos in second part)

I have always liked to travel--not the actual getting on planes, trains and into rental cars part, but the experience of leaving your own known familiar setting and arriving at a new place, absorbing, taking in and becoming full with new sensory input.

Travel is different, however, when you are considering moving to the location. You see it with different eyes. Will you want to walk to that little coffee-shop, say, at two in the afternoon after a long day of work? Will you be able to, depending on the weather? You can forgive elements as a traveler that you would have a harder time coping with as a resident, like a one-room bookstore, a casino on every corner and a very sad state of fruit and vegetable affairs at the local grocery store.

E. and I have just returned from a four-day site visit and interview (E did the latter, not me) in a very small town in Montana. I visited Montana about three years ago and fell in love with it--a location known as the Flathead Valley, a town called Whitefish, which is essentially a village of California ex-pats. Very hip and cute but still flavored by that rural Montana feeling. I was projecting the quaintness of Whitefish in my mind onto this part of Northcentral MT, otherwise known as "the plains."

Below are photos taken with my (old) digital camera of the town we visited holding the thought that we might be living here for at least two years, possibly more. The job interview went well for E. To say they liked him is an understatement. But we have a lot to think about as you can see:

I think it's a beer factory?

We just couldn't get over a stop called "the Kum n' Go."

Our new home?

So THIS is Shangri-La!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Today I give you a Monday Essay, as I will be out of town on Wednesday. The following is by my dear friend, Christine Falcone. I told her when I read this piece again that it is "a poem, a meditation, a litany," which is also why I have not added any paragraph breaks. I think you'll agree.

Blank Paper
by Christine Falcone

Sheets of blank paper remind me of sails or parachutes, or perhaps some work of art by Christo. They remind me of possibility, potential, all that lies before us. They are the future, an unwalked stretch of wet sand on a beach. They have come so far, these humble pieces of paper. From the cloud in the sky releasing its water, to the water itself falling back to the Earth it was originally claimed from, connecting with the soft, lush loam of undergrowth where it feeds the roots of some tower of a tree, perhaps a redwood – a thing that has made its own journey through time and space, through centuries and histories. This piece of paper has come so far to find itself here in this room of six, to be waved around like a white flag, symbol of surrender. In The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the importance of seeing all this in a single sheet of paper: the logger who felled the tree, the hands that operated the machines in the mill, the truck drivers involved in its transport. We must look at a thing and see how we are all interrelated, must understand the lacey web of our connectedness. As your pen scratches the surface of your white paper, the same ink that flows down to the tip runs through my pen, like the blue blood that runs through our veins, just below the surface of our same soft skin, like spider webs or tributaries. We all rest like a whole note in the name “mammal”, claim it as our own. I am living, breathing energy, pulsing, vibrating in strings maybe, just like you, your children, your children’s children, this candle, its flame, this bell, its handle. When I listen to you read, I close my eyes because I can more deeply feel your breath, know your heart, sense your voice, your soul, the soft body of your existence (as my friend Claudia wrote), and I can in this way, lay claim to it, devour it, metabolize the words and, by some trick of alchemy, make them mine.

Christine Falcone is a writer and mother who lives in Novato, California with her husband, daughter and their slightly deranged cat, Spot. Her first writing project began at the age of seven; her first office was in her bedroom closet. Since that time, she's come out of the closet and now writes in her cozy, at-home office swinging from one of her daughter's naptimes to the next as if they were green, leafy vines.

Her work has appeared in print in Women's Voices, Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Essay, Artists Dialogue and Bust Out Stories; online at WordRiot, Tiny-lights.com; and on air at KRCB 91.1 FM . Her award-winning documentary film work has also aired nationally on public television and at various film festivals. She is currently working on her
first novel entitled, This Is What I Know.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

How do I rate? I’ve had the good fortune to be interviewed by Mark Pritchard of the blog Too Beautiful (thanks to Myfanwy Collins for the heads up). I'm in excellent company. I hope you’ll read my interview as well as the others and direct other friends this way.Though the vast majority of those he has already interviewed do have books published, it's kind of him to consider someone like me. Stay tuned for new writers all the time.

Then, tomorrow look for a surprise Monday Essay by Christine Falcone, as I will be out of town next week and unable to post a Wednesday essay.

Be well

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I have not been in a blogging way for some time. Sure, there were the holidays and the New Year's post-partum funk and then the "when it rains it pours" style of getting new work, but the real truth is that when I'm really writing, I 'aint blogging.

What does that mean, "really writing?" It means different things to different people, but it means that I am making myself, first thing in the morning, pen 1000 words of a work of fiction, all pure mind-drain-no-craft-involved wordage because I should.

By 'should,' I don't mean because I'll get in trouble or anything. I mean because writing is to me what praying and meditating and exercising and vitamin-taking is to others. If I don't do it, I feel like crap. Cranky. Bitchy. Depressive.

I was determined not to set New Year's resolutions, because I think it's a bad idea to only make intentions to change once a year. I set monthly intentions. But there is one thing I think I need to do all year long, thus a resolution: focus on process, not product.

You see, I have these little demons of ambition that have worked well for me in many ways, but have caused me an equal amount of suffering. They aren't satisfied by 1000 words of fiction a day, by self-entertaining, by writing for the pleasure of it. These fang-toothed, drooling little beasties want ACHIEVEMENTS and they want them NOW, and BIG and, of course, with lots and lots of VALIDATION. (They speak only in caps, too, you see. Very pushy little devils).

Some people speak of being competitive or ambitious proudly, but I have always felt about my ambition and my competitive streak the way I do about a stain of blood on my underpants--not really keen for anyone to see it. I don't think these are bad qualities, these twin demons, after all, get things done in the world and are responsible for much of what I am grateful about in my life.

But still, I've been having this feeling--more than a feeling, actually, an awareness that is trying to be born in my mind--that life will still be as complicated and dubious, as mysterious and weird when/if I succeed at publishing a novel as it is now. Only it will come with other unforeseen things, like public criticism and people openly expressing their feelings to you about what you wrote, and unforeseen demands. No more or less work, in other words, than I already have now.

Let me put it another way. If I discovered I had a fatal illness or a very short time to live (don't laugh that it's cliche, I bet all of you have lost someone suddenly, even "too soon") what would I focus on? Driving myself to publish, or writing for pleasure? Which would make me feel my life was meaningful?

Yeah. See, that puts it all into perspective for me.

Publishing will happen in its own good time the way that grooves in rocks are made by years of rain or water flow.

So here I go. I'll try to come back sooner next time.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Today's Wednesday essay comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Patry Francis of Simply Wait.

by Patry Francis

I really hate to write this in terms of DOS and DON'Ts. It makes me think of the magazine that shows photographs of poor unsuspecting women on the street, caught wearing the wrong shoes, or too-tight jeans or some other heinous fashion crime, and labels them with a large DON'T. It then contrasts them with their trendy, perfectly coordinated sisters who've earned approving DOs. I don't know about you, but I've always identified with the DON'T people--and not just in fashion. But that's another story. What I really set out to write about here (before my A.D.D. got the better of me) is getting your daily writing done. And in spite of my aversion to the DOs and DON'Ts format, it really is a convenient way of looking at it.

DO set a goal. Whether it's a number of pages or words or a time limit, you need a goal. My personal method is a combination of both. I use a kitchen timer set to one hour. (Pretty pathetic, I know, but I can always do more if I'm inspired or ambitious, and you wouldn't believe how hard I have to fight with myself just to get that hour in. Or then again, if you're writers, you probably would believe it.) At the end of the hour, if I still haven't completed 1000 words, I keep going.

DO prepare. Go to the bathroom, turn off the phone, get your coffee or your chocolate, your shot of Jack Daniels or whatever you need to get you through the writing session because once you sit down you're not getting up until you've reached your goal.

DO make it part of your DAILY life. You eat every day, right? Probably run a comb through the hair or polish the bald head. Find time for at least a few hours sleep. And what about your personal vices? Whatever they may be, you can be reasonably sure they never take a holiday. If you smoke, for example, there's never a day when you just don't have time for a butt, and TV watchers (one of the worst vices in my book) rarely climb into bed without satisfying their yen with at least a 30 minute fix. Alcoholics rarely take a day off, and if they do, they make up for it by bingeing. Well, same goes for writing. If you're a writer, you need to give it at least the same respect you give your (other) addictions.

DO love what you're doing, even when the prose is limpid and nothing comes and the characters are as dead as the cows hanging from hooks in the butcher shop window. You're writing! You're learning! You're practicing! And I'm willing to bet that if you keep on going you'll write your way past those flat sentences and dead cows into a place that surprises you with its greenery.

DO keep going when you want to quit. Unless you've reached your goal, you're not going to get up no matter how desperate you are to escape your computer or your notebook or those flaccid cows you've created. They're yours, dammit, and you're staying with them till they lead you to that lush field described above.

DON'T think too much. You should have done that already. In fact, you've probably been contemplating this story for weeks, months, maybe even your whole life. Now is the time to release it like a thousand balloons.

DON'T check your word count or your timer or do anything that would stop the flow. Just open your hand and let those balloons go. You can count them up or admire their beauty as they float across the skylater.

DON'T let anyone interrupt you unless it's an emergency. Don't stop to get the mail, to answer the door, or to walk around the room in circles talking back to your recalcitrant characters.

DON'T edit, or check spelling or stop to look up a word. There will be time for all that later, too. Don't even take time to search for the right word in your head. Just write blankety blank in the middle of the sentence if its rhythm seems to demand an adjective or adverb that is not coming at the moment.

DON'T be afraid. And this is the big one, the summing up one, ultimately the only one. In the fashion magazine world of don'ts, this is the girl who not only has her thong poking out the top of her jeans and a big midriff roll protruding from her little bitty shirt, her hair is over-dyed, and oh-my-god (!) she's even wearing the wrong sunglasses...well, you get the idea...in the religion of the fashion magazine, she's on the road straight to hell. Well, that's the writer who approaches computer or notebook feeling afraid that she'll never write anything as good as the thing she wrote last week, or that if she actually puts some words down she might have to admit she's really not that talented after all. On the other hand, if she never writes anything at all, she can play the constipated genius for life. What she doesn't know if that she's on the well trod path to writer's hell, which is non productivity, lack of growth, the blank page, the unwritten book, the death bed whine: coulda, shoulda, didn't.

Patry Francis' stories have appeared in publications including Ontario Review, Antioch Review, Colorado Review and many others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. Her first novel, THE LIAR'S DIARY, will be published by Dutton in March, 2007.

Visit her BLOG

A recent story and interview of Patry's can be found in the fabulous literary magazine online, Smokelong Quarterly .

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sorry I haven't posted much lately; I've been busy:

--Contemplating the nature of the universe
--Reading a lot...almost finished with the third book of the Phillip Pullman "His Dark Materials" trilogy (DAMN GOOD!)
--Working. The work has begun to flow and it always comes as a flood.
--Writing. I'm working on a very different project for the sheer fun of it. Maybe it will become something viable, or maybe it's just keeping me sane and giving me a sense of purpose.

I'll try to catch up soon.

Hope your new year still feels fresh and new.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Today, my short story Self Defenseis live in the fresh, new online magazine, Void Magazine.

And don't forget to check out the intrepid and lyrical work of two of my favorite writers Myfanwy Collins and Maryanne Stahl at Vestal Review.

The Wednesday Essay is taking one more week off. But visit Word by Word's blog to read a fantastic article by one of tonight's guests, author Daniel Olivas. Tonight's show, which also features the dynamic Leora Skolkin-Smith, airs at 7 pm Pacific time, and can be heard in streaming audio, and possibly by podcast (still working out the bugs). The blog features all the links.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My friend has passed

I haven't fine-tuned my decisions about the afterlife exactly. I have a kind of bastard view that is one part reincarnation another part nebulous (we return to "energy" not dust). But when I first heard about the Buddhist concept of the Bardos many years ago, the name for the places the soul goes after death (temporarily, before reincarnation), I couldn't help but like the idea. In the Bardos the soul first realizes it is not in a body any longer and has a flash of recognition for the person it once was, then it goes on to another series of (three? six? more) bardos based on the karma of the person's life, which takes approximately seven days to complete. It is here that a person either goes on to Nirvana or comes back into a body to do more learning.

In the first three days of the Bardos, it is said, often the soul tries to make contact with loved ones. I know many people who tell of stories of seeing, hearing or otherwise contacting a dead relative in these first three days.

Yesterday my friend Stephanie Moore died of ovarian cancer. She was in her fifties. She was one of the sentries on my path as a writer. When I was working a job that had me so busy I barely had a chance to think, much less write, she came along and reminded me how much I needed to be writing. She was bigger than life, goofy, intense, and focused in a way that sometimes intimidated me, but unforgettable. I saw her many times over the years after she stopped being my teacher.

I went to the hospital when she was first admitted as part of a "shift" because she didn't want to be alone. She was surprised to see me, because we weren't close friends. But I felt compelled. It was crucial that I see her, that I let her know she'd influenced me. I am so glad I did it.

I wish I knew a prayer that would say exactly how I feel about your life.

How about: Stephanie, I feel you in the Bardos right now. I hope that you are able to experience the life you had with something close to pride. I hope that you choose to come back again and teach more people. May your friends and family suffer your loss as little as possible, and remember you with love.

Thank you.