Friday, April 5, 2013

Opportunity To Grieve

     My friend and teacher, Sean Murphy told me in a long and valuable email that chronic illness is a deep spiritual calling--that he has heard other people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also known as Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease say it was the best thing to happen to them, and as a fellow me/seids patient, he didn't quite believe them. I wrote back and told him I didn't believe them either, and that, frankly, I was furious and still grieving that I'd been felled by this disease, cut down in the middle of my fifties by a wayward virus or biotoin. I was still in deep pain at the time I wrote him. Still angry and frustrated that after thirty years of careful attention to my hygiene around my students (who year after year would come to school sick), a possible virus/bio-toxin got me anyway.
     Who knows where I picked it up. I read that it takes five to six weeks for mono (which is caused by a virus) to strike one down. Five or six weeks earlier, I'd been in Taos, New Mexico on a silent writing retreat. Did I contract it on the airplane? In the airport restroom? At the food market the day I arrived for the workshop? From the food at the retreat? From my roommate who has a child?  It matters not at all.
     One day while surfing online, I saw a photograph of a young woman who'd contracted a resistant strain of tuberculosis. The photo horrified me: she looked emaciated with tubes that snaked into her lungs. The article accompanying the photo explained that this resistant form of TB is running rampant in India where the population can get antibiotics easily. The article went on to state that resistant bacterial and viral diseases are becoming a global problem. They are rapidly spreading around the world because of the ease of travel.
     It scared me and the thought of that made me want to huddle in my house and never go anywhere, but I can't live like that. I've stared down too many fears already--fighting my way out of semi-agoraphobia in the late 80's and early 90's after I was randomly attacked. I refuse to let fear rule my life.
     My husband Bob emphasized that perhaps we couldn't travel the way I'd planned but that we could still see the world, just not as much--that we could still go to Paris, create a home base and just see fewer sights with down time for me in between. Slowly once again I came to realize that my life wasn't over, but I'd have to learn to live inside this illness. I might have to obtain equipment: a cane, a wheel chair, anything to help me navigate through the world as a disabled traveler. Chronic is chronic, but it isn't death.
     All those years of training: meditating, slow walking, and writing practice by Natalie paid off. At my last retreat I told her (in a private moment,) she'd taught me well. She smiled and nodded. I'm fast by nature; learning how to live this way has been like being forced to learn how to walk on the ceiling; it's like having to transform from a gazelle into a slow rambling sea turtle.
     How could I find the serenity I'd lost when I fell ill back in 2009? When I lost my career, my social life, my mobility? By adapting and staying in the present moment. Now, most days when the weather is good, I enjoy sitting in the backyard, under the patio ceiling fan, with my two dogs Petey and Penny Lane as company. Most days while my husband works, I find myself content to read, write, and sip tea. Slowly, day by day, I am learning to sit back, relax, and let the great world spin.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Ground of Being

I beg to urge you everyone:
Life and Death are a Great Matter
Awaken, awaken, awaken
Time passes quickly
Do not waste this precious life

~Evening chant, written on the wooden han

~Natalie Goldberg
  The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Natalie Goldberg's Rules for Writing Practice from Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life

"1. Keep your hand moving.
 2. Lose control. Say what you want to say. Let it rip).
 3. Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac).
 4. Don't think. . .  [stay with first thought, write down whatever comes into your head first].
 5. Don't worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling.
 6. You are free to write the worst junk in America.
 7. Go for the jugular. If something scary comes up, go for it."

~Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life pgs 1-5


Time your writing with a timer. Ten minutes is a good starting point. Later you can play with length of time. If you don't time it, you will stall out and stop and end up staring at the wall.  Write continuously until the bell rings. If you run out of things to say, write I don't know what to write. Many times your brain will kick back in and you will grab a thread of a thought and be back on track. It's ok to wander. You are not writing mini essays.  If you start out talking about a memory of your father and end up writing about the awful time you had on your last vacation that's fine.  Follow your mind. Write without planning or thinking.  After teaching this practice for twenty years, I have found that as you go down the list, the harder the rules become. They sound deceptively simple but actually they are complex and challenge writers to be brave.  The best writing is writing that shows the author's vulnerability.

Keep your hand moving.

Read your work aloud (even to yourself).

If you are writing with another writer, do not comment.

Writing practice is practice: not good, not bad.

Silence and listening is the other side of writing.

Just read; post; read; post.

As hard as it is, please refrain from commenting other than thank you for sharing. I know it sounds kind of lame, but it creates a sense of safety.  We have been so conditioned to always be right, perfect, and error free in our work, that it takes time to get it, it's ok to write less then stellar writing. Think of this as practice because that is exactly what it is.  It's like a musician or vocalist practicing scales.  There is no crossing our or heavy editing.  Lightly editing is ok, for example fixing spelling errors or ironing out a sentence that seems jumbled.  I hand write all my writing practices. Something about connecting your arm to your heart deepens the writing, but writing on the computer is ok too. Just remember the delete button is dangerous.  I keep a notebook and write on the front page only in pen. I never destroy my notebooks. I have notebooks that go all the way back to the early 1980s.  After you fill a notebook up ( and please remember to date it with the time) go back through and read it. You will be delighted and amazed at some of your entries.  There is a gap between what we believe we wrote and what we really wrote.  And letting the work cool off, enables you to close that gap.  Most folks think they are writing crap when in reality they are writing really powerful work.  That critic who tells you, you suck is called monkey mind and it resides in all of us.  It's mechanical contraption that is built in. We can't get rid of it.  A great exercise is to let it have a voice once in a while.  Mine says, no one cares, you are too old to make it in the publishing world, you missed your chance, you were never that good in the first place, and you suck.  I write it out and then tell my monkey mind to get off my back and go sit in the corner.  I have learned that developing a sweetheart voice to counter act the monkey mind is a great way to go.  Mine says, Come on sweetheart you can do this. You have interesting and relevant stories to tell, remember all the women who have come up to you over the years telling you they need your stories of healing.  Keep going.  Don't think about the whole. Just tell the next little part of your story.  Be patient.  Don't quit. You can do this.

I hope this helps.