Expansiveness and the Writing Life

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You stand in the center…..you gaze below….you give thanks for the solidity of the railing.  You know how easy it would be to fall, or, in the old days, to jump.  To fly free…oblivious to the consequences.  Today there is no wind…nothing to shake you, nothing but awe and joy and “OMG” rapture repeating in your head.

Pictures do not offer justice to the depth, the sharp canyon crevices, the width, the sound of water, the smell of clean air, the sound of children giggling and cars slowly passing.  The bridge straddles the deepest gorge I’ve seen since the Grand Canyon.  With camera in one hand and car keys in the other (not a very smart idea, btw!!), I breathe deeply, exchanging stale breath in the lungs for new, fresh air…rejuvenated breath to fuel and strengthen my purpose in being in the southwest.

Standing above the deep crevice, I found myself filled with an expansiveness of experience.  I felt a sense of how wide open and large the world is..with its forever horizon, its long distance mountains, those cartoon clouds, the flat prairie of sage brush, and the jagged cut of the gorge itself.  I realized in that moment that my writing is lacking that sense of wide open possibility.

My plan of making three passes through the memoir by mid March was forcing me to believe that my direction on Pass #2, which is where I am at now, should be an attempt to make the narrative perfect…except for minor proofreading edits.  But twirling in the open air far above the quick flowing river, I realized that my current writing requires expansiveness.  Round one of the writing, which I completed just before moving into Questa, had me simply telling the story…providing the facts, the events.  I knew Round 2 required development…but I’d meant to keep it controlled.  As of yesterday, I have given myself the necessary permission to go WILD!!!  Gypsy Wild!!  To write and write and Overwrite!!!!  To include all the sensory details I can recall…to add snippets of fairy tale and inner monologue, retrospective voice, dreams and flashbacks.  To create the color and sound and richness that a true story demands!!

I’ve now given myself permission to have fun, to make my writing process a daily adventure, to allow the book to become 600 pages in this round of writing, if need be!!  Make it big; make it full!!  Then Round 3 revision will be about cutting to the bone…..but I can’t write to the bone!  I have to expand, to jump trampoline high, and touch the ethereal gossamer of clouds.  In that way, the writing will be done with gypsy joy, with a rebel abandon, and with anticipation of every euphoric sunrise!!!


The Questa Phase



Questa, NM:  a dream come true.  Saturday I moved into a guesthouse (located behind that big red barn!) that I have visualized for 3 months. My goal in finding a small house to rent in NM is to finish my memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which takes place in Espanola, Taos, and Santa Fe, in time to pitch it at The AWP conference in Los Angeles in late March.

Through a friend of a friend I was lucky enough to be connected to this wonderful secluded spot with white buffalo and a black horse on the property.

Today was to be my first full writing day, to begin the second phase of revision.  However , I found myself walking around the 3 room house in a gratitude daze, settling in, setting up altars, gazing out windows and feeding 2 feral cats.

As of tomorrow I plan to begin a daily writing regimen in order to complete this project on time.  Please join me on this journey… Where I will share the joys, frustrations, and insights of completing my book.  Please subscribe if you haven’t yet… And follow me through the dirt roads and mountain shadows of Questa, as I report every day or two on what it takes to finish a book!!!



Artist Studio at Searsport Shores

Penobscott Bay, Maine

My cabin mice made it clear to me that I had to make a decision.  If I wanted to continue teaching at WSU, I would need to find another living situation that would most likely require a one year lease. But I knew I didn’t want to stay in MA another full year. Or, I could leave teaching and begin my vagabond artist dream at the end of the summer.  But what about money, what about saying goodbye to a life I’d known since 2004, what about family and friends, and a car with over 220K miles on it??!

The panic about what to do attached to my back like barnacles to a fishing vessel. It wouldn’t leave no matter what I did. It gripped me like a soul who hadn’t realized she was dead. I made the proverbial pro/con list; I meditated at the beaver pond; I prayed at the feet of the garden Buddha; I pulled Medicine Cards and Runes at midnight; but a definitive decision did not arrive.

Then it came time for my friend Annette and I to travel to Penobscott Bay to fulfill our one week Artist in Residence at Searsport Shores.  In exchange for a two hour art class every morning, Annette and I were given a huge artist studio (see picture above) to live and work in for one week….right on the beach in Searsport, ME.

We planned our daily art and journal writing exercises, walked on the beach, relaxed at the Hermit Hut, ate delicious vegan food in the local town, and worked daily on our individual projects. I outlined a children’s story I’ve been wanting to write for years, brainstormed and sketched ideas about wolves and the wild woman myth for an upcoming art exhibit, and completed several Ex-voto paintings (to be discussed in future blog entry).  I didn’t focus on the future at all during that week.  I sketched and made notes, I listened to the wind, I laughed and hiked, I stayed in the present moment, remaining open and receptive. I lived in Keats’ realm of “Negative Capability”.

On our ride back to MA, after our residency was over, about two hours outside of Maine, a realization rose in me…like a dolphin coming up for air after a long time underwater.  I knew in every cell of my body that I couldn’t return to academic teaching. As much as I loved and respected and was grateful for the students and colleagues I’d had the pleasure of knowing, I couldn’t grade one more essay, couldn’t draft one more syllabus.

A week away, living the artist’s life everyday, allowed me to see the life I was craving.  My decision had been made clear.  It didn’t take any lists or oracles. All it took was time away from the Ordinary World….and a chance to focus on my creativity.

When facing a difficult decision, a life changing path, I believe it’s best to follow Caroline Myss’ advice:  Choose the unknown.  Choose the unfamiliar.  Choose the path that requires the most Faith!

Make the most of your Crossroads Moments!!  In that way, you will truly grow!