Give Yourself Permission

DSC_0710dddblogPermission. To take time. To dedicate that time to oneself, to one’s dream(s). To do.

This seems like such a simple thing. Yet it is quite profound. Giving ourselves permission.

I give myself permission to play, to experiment, to listen . . . to my characters, to myself. I give myself permission to see what happens next.

Some days I just give myself permission to do nothing at all, at least nothing that seems or feels productive in the sense of creating new poems or chapters, or work for my day job. Ironically, however, those are some of the most productive days as they give us back essential parts of ourselves–energy, equanimity, strength, hope.

My good friend Terry and I experienced a week full of bliss recently during West of the Moon from the beautiful birth of his grandson to heartfelt moments of joy shared with our retreaters to a number of moments when those retreaters gave themselves permission . . . to play . . . to just be who they are . . . to create without preconceptions . . . without judgment . . . but mostly to listen (to their souls, their hearts, the deep down parts of themselves).
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The Obstacle Is The Path

Boat and Boy by Peter van Straten

“Boy and Boat” by Peter van Straten

There is a Zen saying that sometimes the obstacle in the path is the path.

A friend of mine who is not a writer, though he is a very talented visual artist, shared some insight with me once that has resonated with me quite a bit the past few months.

“Consider this,” he said: “in the Chinese language, there is a word for Crisis. Much like words in English, the word is made up by combining two different words. The first symbol is the Chinese word for Danger. The second symbol is the Chinese word for Opportunity.”

On Leadership by Peter van Straten

“On Leadership” by Peter van Straten

When we consider the duality of all things, and the idea that an obstacle might also be an opportunity . . . when we acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right to exist; that every conceivable state might have a purpose in the grand scheme (even if only as a “learning experience”), we provide ourselves with the chance to grow.

Back in November and December of last year, I wasn’t writing. From August through the end of the year, I was working nearly every day and was utterly exhausted those meager hours each week I wasn’t working.

I was frustrated, but believed that things would slow down in the new year. After all, my job is busiest August through November.

Except when it’s not.
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Live With Intention

Lafayette Wattles Writing

Lafayette Wattles At The Page

“Lean forward into your life. Begin each day
as if it were on purpose.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

I am starting a new trend for myself this very moment. From now on, I intend to begin each day as if it were on purpose. With INTENTION!

And that intention is to write . . .

I’m sitting in a hotel room in West Virginia waiting for my dinner to arrive via room service and I’ve been driving most of the day so I’m too tired to work on poetry right now, but I thought it might be time to return to Write Side Up.

When I got home from WOTM 2014 last June, I immediately started work for a new job and, as a result, I have only written 2-3 blogs posts in the past year. But the past four weeks in particular have been rather illuminating for me in a variety of ways, all of which keep echoing the same thing – I NEED TO BE AT THE PAGE!

Here’s why:

  1. When I spend even a brief amount of time at the page, I write – write – write!
  2. When I’m writing, I’m breathing. It’s that simple. Words are a different sort of air and I feel healthier and more energized and more alive when I’m writing.
  3. Look, I smile . . . all the time. Not for effect, but because that is what comes out of me. But there’s something different about a smile that comes from the heart and one that comes from the depths of your soul. I’m a genuinely happy guy. And I have been told my joy is contagious. In part, I believe, because it is genuine. But the way I feel inside when I’m honoring my soul and writing, that takes my typical happiness to a whole other level. Right now, as I sit here typing, I feel so incredible thanks to the past 10 days in New Harmony.
New Harmony

Roofless Church in New Harmony

Let me explain.
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Being Receptive – Creative Sparks Take Many Forms

sparkles on water

Children are extremely perceptive and absorb what goes on around them long before they can talk or even comprehend language. They are like finely tuned receivers that pick up much more than is merely said. They are receptive and attuned to every mood, feeling, and change that goes on in people around them.”
– Theodore Isaac Rubin

I just got back from an amazing week in Historic New Harmony where my friend Terry Price and I led a week-long retreat for writers called West of the Moon Retreat. It was our third year doing the retreat and, somehow, each year tops the last.

One of the underlying intentions for the week was to encourage the writers to be RECEPTORS or RECEIVERS (i.e. to more RECEPTIVE – like those old Pioneer and Bose receivers that allowed stereos to pick up so much extra musical goodness that was bouncing around the stratosphere).

We invited them to be OPEN to whatever sort of inspiration might present itself rather than going into each writing session with preconceptions about how their inspiration would come to them.

There’s a need to approach each writing session with a specific intention, a focus, but we discussed how writers often go into a session expecting their inspiration to come in a specific way. As a result, we set our dials and tune in to that one way and we tend to dismiss so many other signals instead of recognizing that our body and our unconscious mind reach out to us in a variety of ways.

After showing the writers a series of yoga poses (not to be confused with ninja moves) put together in a brief sequence for the purpose of opening them up for those myriad signals (any image, color, word, sensation, etc), I finally had my own chance to walk the walk, so to speak. And what a walk it turned out to be.

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Time: Making Every Second Count While Chasing Your Dream

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine
how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Believe it or not, I barely had enough time to get this post done. And I’ve been working on it for the past three weeks. But I digress. Sort of.

This is a post about chasing dreams. And about time. And about multi-tasking, in a manner of speaking.

I have long accepted the fact that I have a jiffy-pop brain. My thoughts, though linear at times, tend to pop all over the place about seemingly unrelated or random things. Of course, they pop even more frequently about related things – as in things related to my dream of being a full-time professional writer.

As a result, I have several projects going on all the time. Like this very moment, I’ve got a new Reading Series that launches tomorrow at Ravines Wine Cellars, I leave a week from today for Historic New Harmony to co-host a week-long retreat for writers and other creatives (which means I’m still fine tuning workshop ideas and materials). I’m tutoring my niece for all sorts of 10th Grade Regents Examination Craziness, and working my job. Oh, and trying to keep up with this blog and work on new poetry for the YA novel-in-verse, and there’s the very cool collaboration project I’m working on with the artist who helped create this website and . . .

You could call it multitasking, I suppose, though recent studies suggest that term to be a misnomer – as we are really only able to truly focus on one thing at a time, we’re just able to move from one thing to the next thing and back again almost instantaneously.

The human brain is wired in such a way that allows for that ultra-fast processing (a.k.a. what we call multitasking), but because we have that capability we often fall into the habit of non-stop multitasking. And that can be a problem (on so many levels).

Our brains are designed to scan, to search for potential dangers, to be on alert. It’s a survival mechanism.

I could go into the potential physiological problems that arise from the growing trend to have our brains in the fight-or-flight state most of the time, but I’ll leave that to those more qualified. Instead, I’ll allude to the quality of work such rapid-fire focus produces. Or, in particular, working on multiple projects simultaneously has worked for me.

One of the interesting paradoxes of creativity is that we need to focus on the task at hand in order to turn inward and to mine the gems deep inside. We also need to be open to whatever comes our way, to be receptive.

Sometimes we force ourselves to focus so hard on what we believe we’re supposed to be focused on that we actually prevent ourselves from receiving creative impulses and ideas rushing toward us. Of course, sometimes we get so caught up in starting every idea that comes our way, that we never complete anything.

Such is the juggling act of the writer, the artist, the creative.

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The Writer’s Quest

A Knight and His Horse by SPT Photographe

A Knight and His Horse by SPT Photographe

“Say it, reader. Say the word ‘quest‘ out loud. It is an extraordinary word, isn’t it?
So small and yet so full of wonder, so full of hope.” – Kate DiCamillo

From the outside, quests seem exciting. They’re full of adventure, the unknown, danger, and heroic feats. From the inside, though, they can sometimes feel impossible to complete.

Of course, many times the writer is simply lacking a few essentials elements found on most quests.

Joseph Campbell identified the common stages to The Heroic Quest:


THE CALL TO ADVENTURE (what are you writing for?)











If you continue to refuse the call, the other stages won’t really matter. But, if you’ve heeded your call, if you’re trying to find some way to live a life that includes your creativity (for me that’s writing), well, then there are three stages you might want to make sure you have covered.
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New Harmony Writer’s Retreat

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil
reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein

What a great thing to pass on!

While I was in grad school I met (and made) a wonderful friend in fiction writer Terry Price. He’s the epitome of a Southern Gentleman: polite, kind, compassionate, and always ready to help others. I think I saw much of my favorite parts of myself in him (at least the parts I hope I possess), accept the dude has one awesome accent and so much southern charm all he needs to do is smile and he’ll sweeten your afternoon tea.

His nickname is Sunshine for a reason.

One of the first things Terry and I did, without any actual coordinated plan to do so, was interact with writers from all the genres at Spalding (poets, fiction writers, non-fiction scribes, playwrights and screenwriters) and try to bring them all together. It just seemed a natural extension of who were were (and are).

Even today, we both agree, some of the best parts of our time at Spalding were those hours spent mingling with such a mix of creatives.

At Ucross, I was able to experience something similar, only this time I was able to engage with artists who worked in other media (visual artists, musicians, as well as writers). It’s difficult to convey how electric and invigorating that is.

In addition, at Ucross, I got a taste of just how succulent this thing writing is when given uniterrupted time and space to devote to it. I can’t even express how wonderful that is, but imagine being given a chance to just immerse yourself fully into that one part of yourself that calls to you the most (often the part you tend to ignore or put off or not listen to as much as you’d like).

Terry and I started the Round Table on Facebook in an attempt to encourage other creatives to pursue their dreams. We had been throwing down our own gauntlet back and forth and we decided why not include others.

Our intention is to spark others into being true to themselves and into giving themselves permission to follow their calling (if not full-time, at least some of the time).

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Three years ago we decided to create a retreat that offered time and space for writing (and for other creative endeavors), while also sharing some of the techniques and tools that have helped us make our creative life part of our everyday life.

They really are the same, after all, we just tend to learn by the time we reach adulthood to block out that call to create.

And that can lead to a sense that something’s missing, feelings of frustration and of being unfulfilled, as we unintentionally ignore an essential part of who we are.

As Picasso put it, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

That’s what the West of the Moon Retreat is all about. Providing fellow creatives the opportunity to remain (or to return to being) an artist as a grownup.

There’s time and space to write, morning yoga to get you into a flow, an abundance of creativity energy, and a wonderful spirit of community.

Check out the new website here. And if you have any questions, contact Terry or me through the contact page. Regardless of whether or not you can attend a retreat or create one for yourself at home, give yourself a little time to listen to that deep down part of yourself. And keep after it!

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration is used via the Create Commons License on Flickr

So Long 2013, Hello 2014

New Year's Fireworks photo by Madeira Algarve

New Year’s Fireworks photo by Madeira Algarve

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work
in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.”  – Sharon O’Brien

Well, 2013 is officially over and 2014 is already under way.

I have to admit, 2013 certainly turned out a lot differently than how I thought it would when it started last January.

I learned some things this past year that were rather surprising and disappointing, but I was also reminded of a few important truths: people who truly care about you are genuinely glad for your success (regardless of how great or how small); they might not get what it is you’re trying to do, but they support you and encourage you anyway.

I was also reminded that challenges reveal a lot about the world we live in and a lot about ourselves.

It was much harder than I expected it would be to get my feet back under me again, but thanks to my family and to my friends, I managed to right the ship, so to speak, and to once again head in the direction of my dreams (slightly different dreams, or a different version perhaps, than I may have had to start the year).

That is love. That is a gift. That is why I am such a lucky man.
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New Harmony's Roofless Church

New Harmony’s Roofless Church


I’m writing from Historic New Harmony, Indiana (I’m here taking part in the 2nd Annual Extraordinary Time Writer’s Retreat)!

Look, any chance I get to be in New Harmony with my computer (and, especially, with a notebook and pen), is one I welcome with unbridled exuberance. I’ve been to very few places that emanate the creative energy and the sense of equanimity of New Harmony and both of those things are invaluable to a writer.

Add to that a tranquil setting with an interesting history (and some pretty cool historic buildings and parks), as well as that rare combination of quiet time and a separate space to write, removed from the many obstacles of the daily grind, and you have a writer’s dream.

Of course, one of the best things about the retreat is getting to spend a few days with one of my favorite people (and a talented writer), Terry Price, as well as some other warm, wonderful, creative writers.
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Residencies, Retreats, and R.A. Salvatore

Sunset at Ucross

Sunset at Ucross

Last week I mentioned that one of the best things I ever did for myself as a writer was attending an artist residency at Ucross. Today I’ll explain WHY that was so important and I’ll also mention two other things I’ve done that have been life-changing, especially for the writer in me.

Though some are strictly for scribes, many residencies accept artists working in various media (visual, literary, dance, musical, and so on).

I can’t emphasize enough how invaluable artist residencies can be for they offer Uninterrupted Time and a Separate Space to work on your art. Aside from possessing some sort of creative talent and a unique perspective, perhaps, uninterrupted time and a separate space might just be the most essential ingredients when it comes to creating art. After all, they’re typically quite difficult to find in our everyday lives.
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