Tag Archives: writing

Longing for the Great Transforming

In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott quotes Lenny Bruce: “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”

My respect for Anne Lamott was enormous before I started this Lenten blog, and now it’s pretty much expanded to such a measure that no word feels big enough, like numbers and the federal debt.  It’s HARD to write about spiritual issues, especially once you get past the easy-to-say stuff that is really more like “spirituality lite:” having compassion, being nice to others, and generally making an effort to be a good person.

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Filed under courage, poetry, spirituality

The Downside of Being Over-Educated

One of the major disadvantages of getting a Ph.D. in Literature is that any pure love of reading that may have led you to make the ridiculous choice to enter a Ph.D. program in the first place has been leached out of you by the time you have crawled through the desert of writing a dissertation.  You give your life to the process for years, and then you come to your dissertation defense, shriveled up like a frightened little prune, and when they tell you that you have “passed,” you skitter away, obsequious and relieved, most likely jobless, and vaguely aware that you should feel happier but clearly don’t.

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Filed under academia, poetry

Your Worst Fears Come True/”Everything is Going to Be Alright”

Good writers seem to know a lot about neuroses.  Anne Lamott, for example, is so exactly right when she describes her students’ fears about being writers because she  is smart, observant, and has experienced them all herself: “[They] want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout—the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia” (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life).

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Filed under anxiety, courage, creativity, poetry, therapeutic writing

Unanswered Questions from Dinner with a Poet

Unanswered Questions from Dinner with a Poet

“What are you thinking about now?” he asked,
across the table,
over the empty plates,
into the silence of an unfinished conversation.

“Is it normal to be terrified?” I want to say.
And when will writing not feel
like assembling a jigsaw puzzle
where all the pieces are gray,
or like being in a country
where my currency is defunct.

But I swallowed my words with a sip
of good Chilean red,
and all I remember now are these two things:

With tired eyes and a precise, compassionate voice,
he looked at me and said,
“Fear is a useful diagnostic tool.” 

And then, when we got up from the table,
he took my wine glass, not quite empty,
put it to his lips,
and drank it. 


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# of questions about creativity=many; answers=none

There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer.  That’s the answer.”  (Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946)

1. Is everyone creative?

2. Why does it feel wrong to say no and not quite right to say yes?

3. What is the difference between creating something and making something?

4. In Hebrew only God can create; humans make and God creates.  What does this mean?

5. Does being “creative” always involve restlessness?

6. If creativity a force, where does it come from and where does it go? 

7. Why does creativity seem so far away sometimes, and so close other times?

8. Is being creative a choice

9. Is not being creative a choice?

10. Why are we attracted to the idea of creative genius?

11. Why would having answers to these questions feel both comforting and dissatisfying at the same time?

Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “[Emily Dickinson] was not an alcoholic, she was not abusive, she was not neurotic.  Neurotic people who go through life make better copy, and people talk about them, tell anecdotes about them.  The quiet just do their work.”

12.  Oates means this to be normalizing, comforting, challenging the idea of the tortured artist.  But Emily, were you…sane?

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Filed under creativity, poetry, therapeutic writing

Blood-Red and Black/More on Creativity

Still wondering about creativity, still immersing myself in some of the vast quantities of material out there, and am very grateful for all of the amazing work that has been and is being done to explore the connections between creativity and “madness.”  But to steal (and probably badly paraphrase) a line from “Beowulf”: “tis not very far from here and ’tis not a pleasant place.” 

Poet David Whyte has said that stifling your creativity is not a passive act; he likens it to letting the smoke build up in a chimney–the greasy, black smoke that slowly backs up into your whole house, and if you did light a match to it, it would burn your house down.  This is suffocating and paradoxical imagery–you need to allow creativity to move as a force, but some forms of its movement are life-threatening.
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Lost (and Believing in Found)

I’m in the midst of preparing for a Heartland Writing workshop on creativity that I’m giving on January 30th, and being “in the midst of” is just what it feels like.  There is so much material on creativity out there, so many points of entry into it as a “topic”–creativity as a marketable workplace asset, creativity as a skill to be taught, as a mode of behavior, as a stereotype involving either chaos, alcohol and mental illness, or bright colors, trips to Michael’s, and pieces of felt. 

The two biggest categories for me with regard to creativity are: safe and unsafe.  Is being creative safe or unsafe or both? I don’t know, and that’s why I’m doing the workshop, which is called Creativity and the Quest for Meaning.  My planning for this workshop has been stealth planning–read a little bit of this, think about a little of that; try not to feel overwhelmed.  Mostly it’s been sitting in or next to the midst of material in my head, heart and study, and closing my eyes and not thinking at all.

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Filed under poetry