Archive for the ‘Notes on Writing and Life’ Category

Keys to the Creative Muse

Monday, May 1st, 2017


Eight years ago American author Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED Talk on creativity and where it comes from. At the time her book Eat, Pray, Love was a mega sensation, selling millions of copies around the world. Yet people would ask her, “Aren’t you afraid you’re not going to top that?” This started her contemplating why anyone would be afraid to do what they loved to do and she began investigating the concept of the creative muse. If it’s assumed that creativity comes from the writer, this creates a lot of pressure. If it’s understood that creativity comes from a higher source, this frees the writer of the burden of responsibility. Elizabeth discovered the ancient Romans thought creative genius came from the muse or the source, which she said is a better way of thinking about it because this puts the onus on the muse, rather than the mere mortal of the writer to create something unique.

Elizabeth said she had once met poet Ruth Stone, then in her nineties, who told her that when she was growing up in Virginia she’d sometimes be out in a field sensing a “thunderous train of air” she knew was a poem. She’d “run like hell” from the field to her house to find a piece of paper and pen “to catch the poem by its tail and pull it back into her body” and onto the page.

Tom Waits had another approach, continued Elizabeth. One day he was driving on the freeway in L.A. when fragments of a melody appeared in his mind. He had no paper or recorder handy and feeling anxious about losing the inspiration he looked up to the sky and said, “Excuse me, can you not see I’m driving? Come back at a more appropriate time.” After this he had a deeper connection with his creative source.

Encouraged by the way Waits dialogued with his creative muse, Elizabeth tried the same thing one day during a difficult patch of writing Eat, Pray, Love. Almost in despair, she looked up to the corner of the room and said, “I am putting everything I have into this…I don’t have any more than this so if you want it to be better you have to show up and do your part of the deal, but I’m going to keep writing because that’s my job.” This saved her, she said and she urged her viewers not to be daunted by whatever they want to create. “Just do your job.”

I find if I sit at my desk every day and write whatever wants to arise I may enter a stream of writing, a golden thread of inspiration. Suddenly words pour onto the page and I have only to write them down for they are flowing as though from a tap. Willingness and allowing open the tap. The muses might think, ‘Oh there she is at her desk, let’s give her some writing today.’ They see I’m serious and not going to leave. I’ve created a space for the writing. Some days I might have only a vague idea of what to write.  If I go with that usually there’s plenty underneath this. The floodgates open. It seems mysterious but it’s really openness to receive. I’m only aware of my hand moving across the page and the writing is effortless.

To open to your creative muse you may wish to try the following three-step process:

1. Relax and breathe deeply.

2. Open and allow.

3. Write whatever comes with acceptance.



Snow, Faith, and Writing

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Dear Friends:

As I walk in the forests and fields here on Salt Spring where we’ve had snow for more than a week, I’m deeply grateful for this white world of wonder, an intricate lace of light connecting the tall firs, cedars, alders, and everything else.

The other morning as I entered the field in the softly falling snow and looked around me I thought ‘How exquisitely beautiful this all is.’ And when I came back to my room and sat down at my desk the Zen phrase “the snow falls, each flake in its appropriate place” came to my mind.

If it’s true each snowflake is in its perfect place, we must be part of this divine perfection of the universe, too.

Sometimes we don’t see this perfection in our writing. We only see what’s not working. We may be judging ourselves for not completing a story or poem or even a larger project.

Yet as we allow our writing to be exactly as it is, we accept the deep rhythms of creativity. There are times when we are productive and much comes; other times we must wait, take small steps, and be patient with the results. We must have faith in the process, however long it takes. Faith takes us through the dark passages towards our completed works. Faith is part of the inner harmony of our creations and the universe. And especially at this time as we approach the darkest time of the year, faith is essential.

Over the coming weeks may faith be your guide and may the blessings of the season be rich and plentiful for you and your family.

With Love and Warm Wishes,

Lorraine


BEFORE DAWN


In the snow-lit field I raise up my palms

to the moon’s blazing white face.

What are you waiting for? she asks.

Feast on the beauty of your life.

L.G.


Creative Fertility

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Be the one on whom nothing is lost

—Henry James

Last month while walking in the forest I came upon a large perfectly formed eagle feather on the path. Given that I was headed to St. Mary Lake for my afternoon walk, I hid the feather under a fern and picked up it up on the way back. When I arrived home, I placed it on my writing desk where I could see it.

The next morning, while contemplating the meaning of this gift, I consulted The Spirit of Place by Loren Cruden, who says the eagle is a totem of strength, courage, leadership, and spiritual power, among other attributes.

More gifts arrived the other day on another path in the forest: four large tightly bound fir cones, which my partner, Phil, suggested represent fertility. I discovered the cones came from one of the tall firs by the creek and I’ve found another ninety-seven cones from the fallen branch they were attached to.

I feel a deep reverence and gratitude for these gifts, which have already generated many creative offerings, including poems, journal writing, and now this note. And I know that as I focus on being “the one on whom nothing is lost” more gifts will come and I’ll partake in their fertility.

What gifts are arriving into your life? Do you have the eyes to see them? Can you honour these gifts through your writing?

With Love,

Lorraine

The Courage to Write

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Dear All:

The other week when I asked a friend how her book was coming along, she admitted she hadn’t worked on it for a year and a half.

“It’s been so long I’m afraid of it,” she added. “Yet I know if I devote a chunk of time to it and hold it in my heart, I will be deep in the book again, and then I’ll be able to go back to it for short periods of time.”

“That sounds right,” I offered thinking of my own experiences with book-length projects over many years. Sometimes life and our own resistances block the way to the writing that means the most to us. Yet if we commit to the process again, set some time aside, and plunge in, we can find our way back to the writing we love.

My friend realized on a deep level she needed to complete the writing. “I have to finish the book, get it into a publishable state,” she told me. “I don’t care if it’s published.”  For her, the work was a soul calling and she couldn’t rest without fulfilling this inner commitment.

Still, returning to a project we’ve abandoned or starting one takes courage, the capacity to step forward into the unknown. Courage demands we let go of our fears and step boldly towards our heart’s desire—no matter what. Maybe our book won’t be published, but the next one might. All we can do is the work that’s ours.

Often distractions get in the way, arising from limited beliefs such as “I don’t have the time, energy, or talent for this work.” Yet when we make the writing a priority, the universe supports it. We find all kinds of resources coming to us—space opens up, time expands, money comes to us, our energy increases. As Goethe wrote, “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.”

The following steps may be helpful for your own process: 1) Let go of any sense of wrongdoing about your writing, whether it’s for losing focus on a project or resisting starting one. 2) Set up a strong intention to work on your project; write your intention on a small card you can see throughout the day. 3) Listen to any impulses that arise about your project and write them down. 4) Carry out what you can do in the moment. 5) Be thankful for your progress, even if small. 6) Trust that as you work with care and awareness your writing will come to fruition.

Bright Summer Blessings,

Lorraine

Poetry and Place: A Hidden Music

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

One of my favorite places on Salt Spring is the southern edge of the island in Ruckle Park where a trail through old growth firs and arbutus trees along the coast offers expansive views, pristine beauty, and an entry into the mysteries of the Gulf Islands, a rare ecosystem of unique flora, fauna, and sea life. I’ve been coming to park with my partner, Phil, since the late nineties when I moved to the island, thus it seemed fitting to launch my new poetry book The Way the Light Enters by Black Moss Press here on an afternoon in October.

Our group gathered in a farmyard near some of the historic barns erected by the Ruckle family, who settled the land in 1872 and a century later donated a thousand acres to the B.C. government for the park.  Given the light drizzle, I read a poem called “Learning to Love the Rain” written after my first campout here. As we huddled under a shelter, I read a few more poems inspired by visits to the park, interspersed with the honking of turkeys wandering around us, then we headed down to a stone-pebbled beach in Granny’s Bay. Everyone sat on giant washed-up logs while I offered poems about other special places on the island: a sacred well known for its healing qualities, a First People’s reserve with a stumped tree altar, a museum that housed native artifacts including a bone-carved soul catcher, the highest mountain on Salt Spring where initiates held vision quests.

Yet it wasn’t’ until we climbed a trail along the coastline to a flat rock under the firs that I felt the power of poetry and place merge to work their magic.

Everyone settled quickly on rocks, mounds of earth, and against trees while I offered poems about a rare orchid that blooms once every twenty years, a ferry ride to the island under an arch of rainbow light, and a “creation story” poem about Haida Gwaii. Inspired by a chief who visited Salt Spring for a talk on the famed archipelago in northern B.C., “The Raven’s Song” seemed to open a portal to the underlying layers of this place. When I read the last two lines: people began to dance and sing new songs/to all things wild and beautiful, one woman let out an audible ahhhhhhh into the silence.  I looked up to see bright eyes and shining faces in the light rain.

Our last stop was farther along the trail at a campsite under a giant old-growth fir whose boughs touched the ground in several places. Here I read a poem called “The Edge of the Island,” which speaks about ancient songlines/still alive with hidden music and from the remarks of many on the walk I knew they’d attuned to the “hidden music” of the poetry and this sacred place.

The next day most of the symptoms of the shingles I’d been recovering from for the previous month, as well as a bout of vertigo, vanished. A line by Rumi in one of the last poems I read at Ruckle Park seemed true for us that afternoon: Awe is the salve that will heal our eyes.

Write to Save Yourself

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

In Anne Michael’s extraordinary novel Fugitive Pieces, one of the main characters, scientist and humanist Anthos Roussos, tells his adopted son Jacob Beer, whose family was murdered by Nazis during the Second World War: “Write to save yourself, and you’ll write because you’ve been saved.”

Heeding his father’s advice, Jacob begins a career as a poet, penning several poetry collections, as well as a book completing his father’s work.

While the Fugitive Pieces is brimming with brilliant lines, this one about writing struck me most deeply when I read it during the summer while in Toronto. And after I returned to Salt Spring in late August and dived back into my own writing, the line seemed to act as a talisman of sorts over the next month.

All I wanted to do was sit in the quiet of my room, walk in the forest, and write. After some days of journaling, I felt drawn to pull out the poems from my collection The Blue Halo, which I’d left in disarray before my departure, given preparations for my trip and the editing of a nonfiction manuscript. I’d had no time even to print out the edited poems before I left, though I did write out a list on a scrap of green paper.

With this make-shift list as my guide, I found each of the poems and worked on them until they felt complete. Much to my amazement, the manuscript came together as a whole within a short period of time and I emailed it to a publisher the other week. The next day the publisher emailed back with acceptance of the book for publishing next fall.

Working on the poems, I realized, was a way to save myself, for the process offered me deep nourishment. I felt as though I’d been replenished like a dry creek filling up with rain after months of drought. And it struck me once again that when I listen to my deep urgings, it always brings a reward of one kind or another.

What writing do you need to do to save yourself? Are you willing to take the first step in the process?

Blessings,

Lorraine

Waiting Beautifully

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

In his memoir Long Life, Honey in the Heart, American author Martin Prechtel describes how the elders in the Guatemalan village of Santiago Atitlan where he lived in the `70s and `80s waited for the newly initiated boys to emerge from the house of a local chieftain after ceremonies marking the end of a year’s training: “All Tzutujil had to be good at waiting, but the hierarchy were the best there was because their waiting was sacred. They knew after years of ritual that waiting beautifully and well was a major part of every ceremony. Each aspect of a well-done ritual was part of what they called food for the spirits. Because the spirits ate mostly beauty, a body of ancient ritualists like these had to dress in the most delicious way and wait in such a manner that the beauty of their waiting could be feasted upon by the gods.”

We must do the same kind of beautiful waiting when we sit down at our desks before the blank page. This means holding ourselves open to what’s ready to come. Some days we tap into a river that seems to pour endlessly onto the page. We let go into the stream moving through us, and surrender to what wants to be written in the moment. There is no effort involved and in a sense we become a transcriber for the words. It is the creative energy moving through us, dictating where the writing wants to go. If we let our rational minds take over and tell us this isn’t going anywhere, or this isn’t important enough, we stop the flow. We get stuck in our own conditioning, which is often the belief we must write about something the mind has dictated so we can feel productive. Yet the creative energy doesn’t care about our agendas. It just wants to flow onto the page. It wants an unobstructed channel. We may be entering into deeper levels of concentration, preparing for something yet unknown to us.

This is what Rainer Maria Rilke experienced one morning in the winter of 1912. As he walked along the cliffs near Dunio Castle in northeastern Italy, he heard “Who if I cried out, would hear me among the angels?” which he wrote down in his notebook. By nightfall, he’d completed the first section of his famous Dunio Elegies, considered one of the poetic masterpieces of the twentieth century. The second elegy came that winter, but it was another ten years before he finished the whole sequence. Rilke devoted his life to waiting beautifully, even though it demanded much of him, for he knew this was the way to the truest writing. In his Letters to a Young Poet he talks of this process of waiting when he says: “Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.”

Are you willing to bring deep humility and patience to a writing project you’d like to begin or continue with? What would help you honor this?

Warmest Blessings,

Lorraine

Wholeness: The Spider’s Webs

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

The other week by a giant cedar near the creek, my eye caught the outline of a spider’s web strung between the tree’s branches and a long yellow stalk several feet away. I smiled at the spider’s ingenuity in finding support for its creation, then as I stepped into the field, the sun dazzled with such brightness I was almost blinded for a few moments. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I was startled to see many small white nets draped in the matted grass across the field.


‘How marvellous,’ I thought at the sight of these illuminated tents, caught in the sun’s light. Then my practical side took over and I started counting all the webs, reaching twenty when I arrived at an alder holding a shining web with spider crouched in one of its lower branches.


I crossed the creek and headed through the back field contemplating what all this meant when the word “wholeness” arose in my mind.  The webs are created with such deft movements by the spiders, each strand carefully attached to the one before into a loose circle, the most primordial shape of the universe as in planets, stars, and galaxies. They remind us of our essential nature and where we come from—the cell that divides into another and another creating the miracle of life.


As I reached the cottage a question surfaced from these musings: What do I need to bring wholeness to now in my life? I thought of my many ongoing writing projects, and the wish arose that one I’d recently completed would find a home. ‘All in good time,’ said a voice from within.


Over the next week as I continued to notice spiders’ webs draped in the trees, over posts, and in the rhododendrons in the front yard, I realized I was being asked to bring all aspects of my life into wholeness, here on Salt Spring where I live, and also in Toronto, where I’ll be visiting family shortly. Often when I’m preparing for a trip to the city, which invariably includes events such as workshops and readings, I feel myself being stretched too thin. And it’s often at times such as these that I become sick, which happened recently. Realizing this, I made the intention to be in more balance, allowing myself what nourishes me: Walks in the forest, periods of rest throughout the day, and writing poetry, even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day. With these intentions in place I felt a sense of wholeness once again.

Blessings,

Lorraine 

The Dance of Writing

Thursday, May 10th, 2012


There are times when we can’t move forward with a piece of writing. We may not believe we have the talent, endurance, or concentration to start or continue a certain piece, or we may have attempted the writing several times without success. We may be contemplating giving up.

What may be needed in such cases is to hold still. By this I mean to allow a deeper concentration for the work to emerge. This state can’t be forced, it can only be allowed.

Yet as we move into this stillness necessary for the work, everything that often distracts us will arise. It may be activities that our families, friends, and other people want us to engage in. We may have a belief we need to act in a certain way because we’ve done it in the past and others will expect it of us. Often the distractions are created by our own conditioned behaviors and patterns.  We may feel bored, lacking in energy, or focussing on a perceived limitation. Any number of things may arise to abort the work.

Sitting in silence and noticing what distracts you will help. Eventually with strong intention and allowing you’ll come to the place where instead of a wall, you’ll see an opening in a wall. It may be a new approach to the writing, a deeper calm, or the voice of the work may suddenly become clearer.

Such was the case for me earlier this spring as I was working on a poem I longed to write for the previous nine months. Given my other work and family obligations it seemed I could never find a space to do the writing. Finally, I realized I needed to write this poem to complete a long sequence that was about to be published, so I made a strong intention and began to write it.

The first draft was sketchy and I realized I needed background information. This came in a synchronistic way that evening, from a documentary on TV.

With each draft I felt I was getting closer to the essence of the writing but it wasn’t until I surrendered to the poem that it came fully onto the page.

This was a dance of sorts, combination of effort and release: preparing for the writing by reading over notes, writing, printing out the writing, and letting go. Somehow through this dance the poem arrived in its full shape. And there was a complete naturalness in which the form and the content met each other in a perfect harmony.  As we let go, everything works in a co-operation with us. 

May you find your way easily to the dance of writing this spring.

Many Blessings,

Lorraine 


Writing as a Joyful Act

Monday, February 27th, 2012

One morning last week just after the first greys of dawn lit up the front yard, I looked out the window at the tiny beads of rain strung along the maple’s bare arms. Suddenly, these beads seemed to glitter like distant stars in the night sky and I realized a deep and mysterious beauty was unfolding before my eyes.

Along with this was a sense of joy and lightness, for earlier I’d been caught in the dictates of my mind urging me to buckle down and work on essays and poems, plus a myriad of other writing. Yet as soon as I’d noticed these insistent heavy thoughts, I let them go and determined to focus on the present. It was then I could really see what was before me in a way that was wholly new. And from this seeing came the urge to pick up my pen and express the insights. This was natural and easy, without any strain at all—writing as a joyful act.

To connect to your own joy for writing, you may wish to do the following practices from my new e-book Write Now: A Guide to Creative Freedom:

Opening deeply to what is, you sense the word that wishes to arise and you write it down. One word, then another word in a flow of words onto the page as you breathe deeply, letting the flow take you where it wishes to go. You give up control. You give up grasping. You sit perfectly content to receive what you’re writing and the body relaxes. Your limbs loosen as you breathe deeply into your body and a space opens for the writing that’s meant to come on this day.
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It’s in the present that creative inspiration flows to you, igniting words on the page. What you wrote yesterday or last week has no relevance right now. What you’ll write tomorrow or next week is of no concern to you in this moment. In this moment there are only words flowing onto the page. If you feel an ache or pain, breathe into it. Accept it fully. By accepting whatever comes, you allow it to move through you, keeping the space for writing clear.
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Be softly here, aware of your body, your breathing, but also aware of the spaciousness within, the well of creativity that resides in your deepest self, which can be accessed by yielding to the power that resides within. Your deepest source is where your truest writer’s voice lives, which you can know through inner silence, patience, intense listening. Simply be present to what wants to come today, listen to what’s there. You may feel this writing as an energy in your body, perhaps in the abdomen or heart. Be present to it. What does it want to say?

Warmest Wishes,
Lorraine