Kedging

Kedges inspire and help you fall in love with your own big bad audacious self.  Often Kedges help you live into a dream you have for your life, and just haven’t allowed yourself to live it or even imagine it. A great Kedge puts a skip in your step, as well as maybe a dash of fear, as you are pulled into being and living more of your gifts.

 

I first came across the term “Kedge” when reading Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley.  He advocates using kedges for helping you get healthy and fit–for example, by investing in a biking vacation or signing up for a mini-marathon–something that has a deadline, reward, and requirement, and inspires you.  You can use kedges for your career, your life, your writing.

Have a listen… and celebrate the kedges that you and your friends have undoubtedly already accomplished in your life. Then, make way for a new one…

Enjoy!

Interview with the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative

Across The Waters

An Interview with Jill Hackett (originally posted by the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative) 

SBWC: The idea of voice in writing is a slippery one. How do you define voice?

JH: Indeed ‘voice in writing’ is a slippery term.  Its slipperiness is what inspired my research and my book—and the second chapter, Describing Voice, wrestles with definition.  The most useful definition I unearthed was from Donald Graves and Virginia Stuart—a kind of foresenic authorial DNA:  “Voice is the imprint of theperson on the piece. It is the way in which a writer chooses words, the way in which a writer orders  thingstowards meaning. As writers compose, they leave their fingerprints all over their work.” 

I began each interview asking the women authors how they defined their own writing voice.  YA author Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ response was one of the most memorable:  “In simplicity. A shout from the heart. That’s all, nothing more. Tell the truth, and the feelings.”

SBWC: You’ve said that as a technical writer you were trained to write “in other people’s voice, or in no voice at all.” Can you talk about the process of discovering your own writing voice?

JH: As a technical writer, I was trained to write mute.  Erase the person (and their fingerprints) from the information—e.g., just hand the reader the correct wrench and tell them how to use it.  Ironically, my 20 years as a technical writer strengthened the craft of writing—making me all the hungrier for the art of writing.  It taught me to write to deadline, pound out a first draft, revise, incorporate edits, assess criticism, and integrate necessary unforeseeable major changes in almost finished manuscripts.  Software tools became involuntary muscles that no longer got in the way of writing. Technical writing thoroughly taught me the skill that author James Michener attributed his success to:  “I can put the seat of my pants to the seat of the chair for 8 hours a day, every day.”

As I apprenticed myself to published women writers through interviews, I started to discover the variety of ways that creative work can begin.  Some authors begin with a title.  Some begin with setting.  Some create a palette of words, other writers stream words.  Some have a character lead them into the story.  John Irving always knows he is beginning a new novel when he has written the complete last sentence of the book.  He writes the last sentence first, then plots the whole novel, then writes from the beginning to the end, and never changes the last sentence.   My own strongest writing begins kinesthetically—it is a physical feeling I get when I know a piece is ready to be written.

SBWC: In your wonderful book, I Gotta Crow: Women, Voice, and Writing, you identify “three voice centers,” the voice from our head, the voice from our heart, and the voice from our bodies. Can you talk a little about the value of this distinction for you, and the way these centers might work with or against each other?  Do our internal voices need to harmonize to do our best work?

JH: The three voice centers are: the voice from our head (the rational voice: ideas strike us and set offthoughts and plans), the voice from our hearts  (the emotive voice: feelings, memories, longings, andpassions), and our body voice (language of the gut, hunches, intuition)

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From rational to emotive, there is a range. No writing is purely from one polarity. Technical writers deal withhunches and intuition of how to order their pieces, even while they may strive to erase personality. Poetsuse the logical mathematics intelligence of the rational  mind to manage meter and form. Each of us hasour primary,  favored voice center, but any of the voice centers can lead off effective communication. Each center has its own purpose.

For me, the rational / head voice is useful for plotting, editing, and structure.  Working from the heart works for me when working with dialog and character development.  When my writing is flowing best, I am writing from my gut.  Natalie Goldberg discusses that when she finds herself getting stuck when writing, she drops into her belly.

SBWC: In The Sound on the Page, Ben Yagoda writes, “…it is frequently the case that writers entertain, move, and inspire us less with what they say that by how they say it.”  What role does style play in the idea of voice? Is crafted writing authentic writing?  Is voice learned or innate or both?

JH: I would suggest that Yagoda’s “by how they say it” may not be just style—but perhaps something more than words.  There is information that travels on top of words, which the writer’s voice transmits.  Stephen King discusses this in his book On Writing: a memoir of the craft, where he suggests that writing is a telepathic activity.  The writer creates a scene in their own head which they put on paper and expect their reader to receive months or years later.

 

Have you ever noticed, when listening to non-fiction books on tape, that when the author reads their own book, it is much easier to grasp the concepts than it is when a professional voice over artist reads it?  King’s writing book is a good example.  I read the book, and then listened to the audio version, and absorbed much more information from the audio than the written book.  Information traveling on top of the words.

Similarly, in written format, “the way in which a writer chooses words, the way in which a writer orders things towards meaning” is more than style, and creates impact, influencing meaning.

SBWC: Voice in fiction is tied to the idea of persona. Is the idea of voice the same for the novelist, short story writer, or poet as it is for the technical writer or the memoirist?

JH: Writing voice “echoes” within the reader. Something resounds.  Strike a tuning fork and move it closerto, but not touching, a second matching tuning fork. The second fork will begin vibrating, picking up thesound waves from the  first  tuning  fork. A strong writing voice, likewise, moves something within us.  This resonance, I believe, occurs in novels, short stories, memoir, and poems.

In good technical writing, the issue is not as much about resonance and voice as it is about clarity and simplicity.  I once had worked extremely hard to present a complex control panel in an understandable usable way.  My editor commented to our manager that this was so simple, anyone could have written it.  To this, our manager replied that it was an excellent piece of technical writing precisely because something so complex was made simple.  I had succeeded in erasing the person from the piece and writing mute—and handed them the wrench.

 

SBWC: In I Gotta Crow, you explore the ways gender impacts voice.  How do writers historically marginalized or silenced find their authentic voice?

JH: Gloria Steinem said that “especially for any group that has been marginalized, you need a time of being central.”  It is important to find a community that listens and allows the marginalized voices to develop more fully.   Hedgebrook.org on Whidbey Island, Washington state, was founded to support women writers—particularly women advocating change.   Amy Wheeler, the executive director of Hedgebrook, said, “when you understand that storytellers shape our culture, they shape who we are as individuals, as a people, then, who gets to be the story teller is a really pivotal question.”

The Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development confirms this approach.  In a longitudinal study of girls during their ages of 7 though 13, the study found that girls who had an older female relative, who was willing to stand outside the dominant culture, and listen to the girl—these young girls were able to hold on to their own knowing, and their own voice.  The results of this study were published in Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship, by  Jill McLean Taylor, Carol Gilligan, andAmy M. Sullivan.

 SBWC: I’m very much interested in the idea of elision in writing; that is, what we leave out of our stories or essay or poems can convey as much as what we put in. What role does silence play in voice?

JH: Silence is an important language. Not speaking can be an intensely relational act, as is the struggle tofind one’s true voice. Our voice is shaped by what we do—and do not—voice, and by when we choose tospeak and when we choose silence.

The author chooses what is foreground, what is background. Repression is a different kind of silence, andalso shapes voice.

SBWC: We grow as people and as writers. How do you reconcile the idea of an authentic voice with changes in our abilities, our interests, and ourselves?

JH: I have wrestled with the myth that, to write and let you read it, my thinking  has to be fully mature,complete, finished—and that five years from now, I’d agree 100% with what I wrote. There is somethingdaunting about the permanence of the written word. A phone call fades, even e-mail is more likely to bedeleted than not. But a written note can be taken out and read over and over again, over time. And itcontinues to speak from the person who wrote it—who I might not be in five years.

Annie G. Rogers, when  talking about writing  her memoir book, A Shining Affliction: Tales of Harm andHealing in Psychotherapy, said that one of the most difficult tasks in the writing  was to go back to theperson  she was when she was experiencing  this, and write from that voice. That’s one thing, memoirs.Somehow, change in that  genre  is expected.

But, for me anyway, I have had to work at giving myself permission to grow in my writing. To begin with apiece that I know I will be able to improve on someday, but let it be read, let it go. I struggle with thisconcept in writing this book. Roni Natov, a professor at Union Institute & University, told me, “Just do yourbest writing. It will change. You are still learning and will always be.” That helped.

Then I thought about the other arts—specifically, looking at Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. Her early pieces, inblack and white, are very clearly early efforts with seeds of her later brilliance. Put an early sketch next to awondrous oil from the end of her career and step back. I can only have admiration for where she began, andwhere she concluded.

So, I foster my courage and court inspiration by tucking  an early O’Keeffe near my keyboard. And givemyself permission to grow.

 

SBWC: What most surprised you about these discussions?  What did you find most helpful to your own work?

JH:  I was surprised by the generosity of story, and willingness to support and share experiences.  Writing can be such a solitary act, and yet, through these interviews I felt deeply accompanied .  The many different ways that writers began writing was fascinating to me as well as their writing habits and disciplines.

SBWC: If voice is something that is partly learned, how do beginning writers develop voice? What role does reading play?

JH: When a visual artist first learns drawing, they often start by studying the masters.  A pianist will begin with learning scales (craft) and then classic pieces as their skill allows.  Similarly, it writers helps to read voraciously to hone their ear.  Author Phyllis Hoge mentioned that she can now see the influence of Rilke and Yeats on her early work, when she first began writing poems, because she was reading a lot of their work.

And part of the work of finding one’s voice is peeling back the inherited voice, which has been layered onto us by our families, schools, communities and Zeitgeist.  I interviewed Nancy Houfek, who was head of Voice at the American Repetoire Theatre.  When she trains new actors, she begins by peeling back the learned habits of the environments in which the actors were raised.  She mentioned that mid-westerners had a way of holding their muscles tighter around the mouth than, say, New Englanders.  Getting the budding actors in touch with these habits gave them awareness to make choices—it develops their body into a blank canvas that they can layer as they build their characters for the stage.  And this process helps to unveil their natural abilities and innate skills.

Similarly when we as writers can examine our inherited voice, and understand our cultural shaping, we may be able to find our blindspots, our strengths, and make more powerful choices about the voice we choose.

SBWC: One element you explore in your book is the idea of “inherited voice”.  How do our personal histories affect our writing voice, and what can writers do to increase awareness of these invisible or forgotten influences?

JH: There are many ways that our inherited voice impacts our writing, and we will be exploring some of these ways in the workshop on September 17th, “Mining Family Stories.”

For example, in family therapy theory, family systems are rated on a continuum from enmeshed (where your mother talks to you through a closed bathroom door) or disengaged (when many things are just not mentioned). These patterns of communications are learned, and can inform how close you hold your reader, how you have your characters interact.

SBWC: Strunk and White call the issue of style/voice “high mysteries.” Are there elements of voice that seem indefinable to you?

JH: We know voice when we feel its resonance.  We know when a piece we have written comes through so clearly—writing from the bone.  What is more challenging to define is one definition of writing voice since it is the fingerprints we leave all over our work—and is as unique as each writer’s DNA.

Women who run with the camels

That is what co-owner Miranda Innes calls women who show up in at her Moroccan B&B alone.

Yet I would not recommend it for the feminine faint of heart.  A woman alone in a souk with her own pocketbook in tow throws Moroccan male concepts of where a woman should be into high disarray and makes the politically incorrect American male construction workers look like priests.  “Luscious Lips!”  “Hello Money!”  “Thank you;  no thank you; damn you!”  And the one epithet which I took as a compliment, though I do not fully understand it: “Berber woman!”

These sassy souk-sayers are no more representative of all Moroccan men than were those tee-shirted hard-hatted lascivious whistling workers on American streets of their US counterparts.  Colorful, yes; memorable, certainly.  But not the voice of all Moroccan men, thank goodness.  And just like in America, if you are walking on their souk streets with a man, or with someone they know, you are far less likely to receive the comments.

Hosts Miranda Innes and her husband Dan Pearce introduced me to Jamal, who has a shop in the souks.  When I met Jamal, he shook my hand, then touched it to his heart—a gesture I would see repeated over and over.  Lovely that gesture, acknowledging taking this stranger into your heart.  Then, after asking where I was from, Jamal offered me a “Big welcome” looking straight and deeply into my eyes.  I felt very welcomed indeed.

The other sound on the streets which took some getting used to was the Call to Prayer five times a day, with a warm-up call before the first one—sort of a snooze alarm system.  I had looked forward to experiencing the days’ cycles of prayer, and planned to participate with my own silent prayers in my own eclectic fashion.

The Call to Prayer is amplified from all of the mosques’ loudspeakers.  Mosques are Marrakesh’s anchors which pin the streets down, keeping them from getting hopelessly tangled up.  You can always look up and locate yourself relative to a mosque, towering benevolently and gently over the ancient camel-wide streets—until Call to Prayers.  Then the mosques all come audibly alive simultaneously—and loudly, with multi-decibel amplification.

The Call to Prayer is primal and deep, like a wild animal’s visceral longing, yearning for its mate, or like a warning, a human air raid sound:  “Take cover!  Take cover!  Go find the protection of the Divine now, save yourself.  Hurry!”  I wanted to duck under my desk the way we were taught in elementary school, in case of an attack, during the Cold War.

And then silence.  Prayer.  Stillness.   Or so I thought.  Sitting in a restaurant in Djemaa el Fna when a Call to Prayer came, I was surprised to see people still bustling around on their errands.   I had expected people to stop in their tracks wherever they were, for at least a moment of silence.

So I asked Jamal about this.  He explained that one cannot just start praying.  Preparation, absolution, must be offered first before praying.  There are two types:  full absolution includes washing most all of the body in ritual preparation for prayer, and the abridged version includes a smaller body geography to wash.  If absolution has not been accomplished, then you may not properly offer prayer.  So the people in the square kept going about their life.  And, he told me rather sadly, not everyone, just like in America, observes their faith.

I confessed to Jamal that I was using the Calls to Prayer to offer my own up, in my way.  I felt suddenly very sullied, not having ritually prepared, just blurting out my prayers wherever I was.  The idea of preparing to pray I quite like, and I wished there were some easy-to-pack version.

Jamal explained that they observe two kinds of prayer:  the kind I was doing, which was between a person and their god, and the kind that people were observing in the mosques, praying together.   In the private prayers, between person and the divine, this is when one “surprises God,” Jamal said.   I love this concept—to surprise an all-knowing deity.  Kind of like showing up unannounced, or maybe throwing a surprise party.  I wondered how I could surprise God—perhaps by praying without an appointment?  I know that I have often been surprised by God—and delighted.  It is intriguing to hope that perhaps the favor could be returned.

Jamal went on.  The prayers in the mosque are the second kind of prayer, stronger, different.  Usually these prayers are led, and the people listen prayerfully, adding Amen’s where needed.   Yes, I agreed that many religions also have this kind of prayer.   And when more people are gathered, it is stronger prayer, different prayer.  I thought of the scene in the movie Avatar where the natives of Pandora, the Na’vi, prayed together, joining their focus and wills to a single purpose.  That’s this second kind of prayer.

This experience reminded me of growing up with daily prayer in our US schools, and I was sad that my children’s generation grew up without either daily method, silently alone or led together.  The Pledge of Allegiance is long gone from US school mornings, also, because it contained “one nation under God,” which is still good enough for printing on our money, but not for the protection of freedom of speech and worship in the schools.

Yet, here in this Moroccan country whose traditions are so laced with worship, the airwaves five times a day are filled with that primal call to prayer:  “Take cover, take shelter, get safe and square with your divine—now!”   I envied the Moroccans this ritual.

There was one other cycle-of-the-day ritual, which happened at Riad Maizie where I was staying ( www.riadmaizie.eu ).  A riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden; the term comes from the Arab word “ryad” which means garden.  The house has two entrances:  one for people, to enter from the street.  And one for the divine, open to the sky, in the garden.

Riad Maizie is a beautiful 200 year-old building which Miranda Innes and Dan Pearce had completely restored in traditional Marakchi decoration. Both Miranda and Dan are artists:  Dan is an artist working in oils and comics, Miranda is a author, having published many books on decorating, and one on their adventure of restoring Maizie:  Cinnamon City (Black Swan, 2006).  So the colors and beauty of Maizie are quite spectacular.  Each of the guests felt vaguely guilty since we each believed we had the best room in the house; all are so special.
At Riad Maizie, every morning and every evening, there is a ritual in the courtyard at precisely sunrise and exactly sunset.   Approximately 87 small dark birds with humongous lungs come to the upper north east corner of the courtyard, which was right outside my window, nesting in a specific tree, and they tempestuously sing the sun up into the city, then in the evening tumultuously sing the sun back down into the earth.  It is a loud cacophonous raucous noise, primal like the Call to Prayers, but in a high-pitched bird way—as primal as these little birds can be.   They make a glorious racquet.  And when the birds are sure that the sun’s passage is complete, they disappear as quickly as they showed up.

This reminded me of Carl Jung’s encounter with Chief Mountain Lake.  Mountain Lake was an American Indian medicine man, and every morning Mountain Lake awoke before the sun, and went to sing the day into being.  He had done this almost all his life.  It was his job.   Carl Jung wrote of Mountain Lake, “I envied him the certainty of his purpose.”

Not everything works on time or in proper cycles, however.  The day of my departure, the taxi which had been ordered the night before did not show up.  So Abdul, an achingly handsome young Islam boy who is indispensable to Miranda and Dan at Riad Maizie, turned to me and said, “We must go find another taxi now,” and he gestured to his motorcycle.  I remember thinking, “But I’m 62. It has been at least 20 years since I’ve been on a motorcycle.”

Abdul gestured again, with the look of, “Let’s get on with this, the flight may leave.”  I thought, “Fortunately I’m wearing slacks.”  He got on his motorcyle, swinging my carry-on luggage up onto his lap. I hopped on the back of the cycle behind Abdul, and held on to my luggage (with my arms around him of course).  Then we flew thru the streets of the souks at 7 in the morning, passing hooded men and horses and carts, with inches to go on either side.  Amazing.   Wish I had pulled out my video camera.  Must get a repeat…

Abdul found me a taxi, which drove me through the city as it was waking up.  Very beautiful in the early morning fog.   A timelessness and ancient feeling, in the center of Marrakesh.  It has been there for centuries, with i
ts cycles of calling in the day, the divine, the shoppers.   The mountains witnessed the day begin, and the calls started up once more.

Mountain Lake had told Carl Jung that he thought that white people were a bit crazy, because they think with their heads.  When Jung asked Mountain Lake how he thought, the chief touched his heart with his hand, the same way Jamal had done when he gave me a “Big welcome,” and said, “We think here.”

GALLERY:

Harry’s Bar

Venice, Christmas Eve You leave the grand space of San Marco’s campo, with its four horses and St. Mark’s body, clipped as goods of war, now bringing credentialization to the duomo. Walk along the water’s edge, and you’ll feel this stolen grandeur fade. Four stairs down step the platform closer to the water, where no doubt aqua alta splashes regularly when storms and high waters brew.
Keep walking, another block or two.To your left across the water is the Custom’s House, and a graceful church. In the fall, gondolas are reefed up side by side, and boards are put on top of each gondola, to allow you to walk across the water. A ritual of thanks for bringing the city through a plague.
To your right, you will feel Harry’s before you see it. Two lighted windows in the otherwise dark waterside passage. Frosted, with art deco style fonts, sans serif, saying simply: Harry’s Bar. Like the font, without flourish, you have found it.
“I think this is Harry’s,” Suzanne said.
Jill Hackett

We were not sure we were at the front door. Double doors, glass panels repeating “Harry’s Bar,” brass handles highly polished, understatedly welcomes you.

I tentatively pull open the door, half expecting to be in the kitchen by accident, my “Scusi” is at the ready. Instead, I enter the Algonquin bar on the Grand Canal. Small round white tableclothed tables along the windows, a few folks sitting sipping Bellini’s, they scan us as we come into the room. I expect to see Dorothy Parker at one of the tables, holding forth.

“Buona sera.” The tuxedoed receptionist greets us, list in hand, standing behind an aged wooden restaurant pulpit.

“Buona sera e buon Natale! Ho un reservatione alle otto, le cognome e Hackett o Fifield, credo.”

“Si, Signora Hackett. Buonvenuto al Harry’s. ” And he gestures to my right.

Magically a man has appeared to my right, placing his body between me and the scanning eyes. I did not feel him arrive, he is just here, in his white short coat, perfectly starched and pressed, right by my side. He smiles his welcome, and gestures. He will lead us to our table—in part so we will not get lost. In part, because there are rituals to be done along the way and he will be our guide.

The space itself is quite small, and cozy. Yet the space is perfectly managed for privacy. Our guide leads us to the coatroom, visually buffering for me the whole way. The “coatroom” has the footprint of an American dining room table, no bigger than that, just tucked in the corner of the stairwell. No doors, just two walls. A short Italian woman emerges from under the coats, dressed all in black, and takes our coats. This is the second magic appearance of staff, and I will quickly learn that all of Harry’s personnel are masters of appearing and disappearing without leaving traces. Like a good wedding photographer who can mix among guests without being felt, so as to capture great candids, these people are experts in tucking in their energy and serving up privacy, in an incredibly compact space.

In the coatroom space, there are two sets of stairs. Our stairs are to our left, waxed, polished warm oak, a graceful curve and banister. The other stairs go straight ahead, straight up, no nonsense, with metal trim to keep the worn no skid covers on. These are for the staff — who must be predominantly right-footed, because the first stair has a deeply worn place cupped into the wood on the right, and the second stair has one on the left. Many stories have gone up and down those stairs.

Our guide gestures to our left and leads us up our less worn stairs, where the next tuxedoed maître d’ takes over, welcomes us again, and leads us to our table, through one room into what I will come to understand is the preferred dining room. There is a rhythm about this process. It reminds me of synchronized swimming, only they are carrying us along with their routine, making sure each stroke is well timed. It is graceful and fluid. Very pleasant.

We are seated at our round table. The Caprisi’s have strong feelings that tables should be round, and I totally agree with them. It helps to move conversation and remove sharp edges, of all kinds.

Settling in and freaking out

The front dining room is small, with about 12 tables in it. Four bay windows open onto the Grand Canal, and two standard windows open onto the side street. Like the outside, the inside is understated and well done. The windows on this floor are not frosted. No need since we are one story up, and privacy is insured. We can see the lights from the Custom House and church sparkle in the dark water. It is just past the full moon, so there is a soft light in the night, also.

Six white coated waiters and one black tuxedoed waiter serve our dining room of 12 tables. They pass each other wordlessly between the tables in a constant flow, again reminding me of synchronized swimming. In the course of our dinner, each one of the seven men will come to our table. They all speak perfect English and prefer to use it for us, the way that I am proud to try my Itanglish. But I give in, and receive their gift of language, and do not use my Itanglish –expect now and then.

We begin, of course, with Bellini’s — and aqua frizzante.

The Bellini’s are amazing. They take a surprising amount of time to appear, and are worth the wait. No doubt the white apricots are pureed moments before the drink arrives on the table. Exquisite! With the first sip, I plot how to acquire white apricots in Citta della Pieve. The Bellini’s are served in a thin cylindrical glass. Not too sweet. Not too thick. Not too cold. Perfect. I am already very glad I came.

The maître d’ delivers the menus. They are the color of Tiffany’s. And similarly priced.

“The lentil soup is 30€ –my God, that is $45 US dollars for a bowl of soup! The meat courses are 79 € and contorne (vegetables) are high 20’s! Pasta is in the 40’s. Bellini’s start at 15 and go to 17. The best value on the menu is the house wine at 8 Euros for a quarter liter. Good God.” We are reading the menu out loud.

The maître d’ is right on top of his job. He arrives instantly by my side, body blocking us from the rest of the room, hands folded in fig leaf style. Deep quiet soothing voice. “Might I suggest the Christmas Eve menu? It is a very good choice.”

“That is con tua consiglia (with your recommendation)?” I ask .

“Yes, most certainly. A fine fish menu.”

It is also the best value for the Euro on the menu, I note silently. The fixed price Christmas Eve menu is 120 € –per person. I cannot help myself from converting into US dollars: $180 and rising. Pretty stunning. But this delicious-reading five course meal values out the same as ordering only a second course and vegetables. He is right. A good choice, both in value and taste.

The Christmas Eve menu is:

• Antipasto: Tuna tartar, artichoke hearts, and baby shrimp with a light horseradish sauce

• Primo: Spinach-based ravioli stuffed with white fish and a very light cheese. Sauce is roe and a white bean, just very lightly dotting the ravioli

• Secondo: Sea bass on asparagus tips, topped with Hollandaise sauce, which is grilled (a slight bit of cheese is added to the Hollandaise so that it can be grilled and a light crust forms, browning it and adding a wonderful texture).

• Dessert: Panettone, traditional Christmas bread.

“Thank you, grazie. I appreciate your recommendation.”

This interchange, as planned, has managed to stop the just-a-bit-too-loud reading of the numbers on the menu. The maître d’ leaves us with an almost imperceptible nod and slight bow. I shoot him a smile. He will be back.

“Mamma mia regazzi, do Elizabeth and Matthew know what they are giving us?”

“Yes, I hope so. It is indeed a very generous gift, isn’t it? I think they know what they have done. Elizabeth said this was a place not to be missed and they wanted me to experience it. Elizabeth has been here, so she knows Harry’s, and I do hope they know how much they are giving us.” I had read the website, but it had still not prepared me for the sticker shock.

We settle into reading the menu again, just because it really is amazing in the variety and presentation of fish. Christmas Eve dinner is always fish in Italy -a tradition inherited from Italy’s Catholic roots.

“Are you ready to order?” One of the six white coats has arrived. Each one is more handsome than the next. Beautiful Italian men. This one looks like a tall Rupert Everett, only more gorgeous and definitely straight.

Suzanne has a question. “Does the panettone come with raisins?” He will ask. He disappears and returns.

“No, not tonight, Madame. Sorry.”

“That’s alright, I was just wondering. And will you serve it with whipped cream?”

“No, sorry, it is served plain.”

We order two Christmas Eve menus, and the white coats leave us to our Bellini’s.

Suzanne is in shock. She has a deer-in-the-headlights look about her.

Suzanne pulls out her cell phone and starts text messaging her sons in Seattle: “At Harry’s Bar. Bowl of soup 30 Euros. Just ordered fixed prix at 120 Euro. Gift from Jill’s son and daughter in law. Wish you were here.” She reads it – out loud to me. Then sends another to her other son. This takes a while, so I begin observing.

Christmas Eve diners

A British couple to my right, middle of that wall. The man was a double for Daddy JEF in his early 50’s. Really strikingly the same. Harris tweed jacket, nice cufflinks, same strong jaw line, slightly receding hair, silver glasses, nice smile. He had curly hair, slightly darker than Jim Fifield’s, otherwise a doppelganger. It was comforting to see a reminder of Jim. They spoke quietly and were facing away from me, so I could not catch their story.

This British couple triggered my telling Suzanne a Matthew story. I was going to meet some British friends of Matthew’s at Princeton for the first time. I asked what the woman looked like, and Matthew said she was a fine looking British woman. I asked what that meant, and Matt said, “You know how Dustin Hoffmann looks in Tootsie? That’s what a fine British woman looks like.” I thought that was a very funny observation, and have come to understand it as pretty accurate. This British woman, however, was slim and blonde. She was aging nicely. Maybe she was Swiss.

In the far right corner of the room, a retired American couple, short, grey, square faces and bodies. Very attentive to each other. She had once been a beauty, you could tell from the way she carried herself and the way he still looked at her. He clearly saw her as beautiful. The husband talked at length to the maître d’, telling him that he had been in the restaurant business in the United States. So Harry’s for this couple was a crowning experience that they had always wanted to have. Their Christmas present.

Directly across from me, a fully head shaved man around my age sitting between his elderly mother and his young daughter—very strong family resemblances. He had his elbows on the table a lot, and was wringing his hands intermittently—I doubt he was aware of this. We would catch each others’ eyes at times, because we were directly in each others’ line of sight. At the moments we looked at each other, he seemed to be saying “Get me out of this.” And yet, I know they will all remember that evening and be glad of it, when the grandmother is no longer around. Important memories, however hand wringing they were, were being made.

An American family of four came into the dining room and sat just to my right, at the near corner table. Father, mother, college-aged daughter and mid-twenties son. When they received their menus the two children began to read the prices out loud. I watched the maître d’ go into high alert.

The son said, “Dad, this is going to be a 600 Euro dinner for us—that’s almost a thousand dollars.”

“We deserve it, son. It is okay.”

The mother added, “Thank God for counseling or we might not all be here together.”

“It would have been very sad for me not to be with you all at Christmas,” the father added quietly.

“May I suggest the Christmas Eve menu?” The maître d’ had arrived. Perfect timing.

I understood that this family had been through a lot the past year. Later—when I shared our whipped cream with them that the chef made especially for Suzanne’s offhand comment about panettone — I would learn that the daughter was studying in Barcelona for the year, and they all came over to be with her. Families often go through crisis when the first, or the last, child leaves home. This was also the father’s first trip to Europe.

For this family, Harry’s was the ritual, the acknowledgement, the gift that they were giving themselves that they were pulling through together as a family, that they would continue, together.

The food—delicioso!

Our meal arrived in well timed waves. The house white wine was excellent: light, dry and a perfect complement to the meal. A pretty small pitcher, wavy. With Murano here, glass is appreciated.

The tuna tartar was amazing. Soft sushi grade tuna finely minced with fresh herbs. I love good raw tuna and did not think anything could make it taste better, but Harry’s found a way. The two artichoke hearts looked like tender small dark green tulips, perfectly soft and delicious. And the baby shrimp—yummy. The sauce was mayonnaise based, which sounds awful but it was excellent. I think it had a touch of horseradish—Suzanne disagreed. Light, creamy, not overwhelming.

The ravioli, a light green, with red roe dotting it, and some white bean sauce here and there. The sauce dressed the ravioli like little edible Christmas balls, rather than a swamp of flavor. It was fun to be able to choose the progression of tastes by how I loaded my fork.

And the sea bass: spectacolo. Suzanne held an Italian conversation with the waiter to ask about the browned crust—that is how we discovered the cheese in the Hollandaise sauce.

Somewhere between the ravioli and the sea bass, a white coat arrived to tell us that “The panettone will be having raisins tonight.” The traditional Christmas bread was pregnant with raisins afterall! And it arrived with a surprise bowl of whipped cream, in response to Suzanne’s offhanded inquiry. That is how we met the family next to me.

They were eying our whipped cream, about to ask for some, thinking they had been overlooked. I offered them our bowl, and explained it was made specially, that they were not slighted.

I excused myself to go to the ladies room, and when I came back, the maître d’ had inquired of Suzanne if I were indeed Ms. Hackett. He inquired if the gentleman who left his credit card for this gift was my father, and was most impressed to find out the gift was from my son and daughter in law. Italians highly value mothers and motherhood, and to have a son and his wife give the gift of Harry’s at Christmas to his mother—it MOST impressed the staff. Just touched their hearts. Really.

Leave-taking

On my trip to the ladies room, I had spotted a Harry’s Cookbook, and a book about the history of Harry’s. I asked the maître d’ to show them to me. Very interesting.

I hailed the maître d’ and requested in my best Italian if he would mind asking the chef if he was willing to dedicate these books for me. With a real bow this time, from the waist (afterall, it was now established that I am a mother with a generous son and daughter-in-law!) , the tuxedoed maître d’ briskly turned and left the room.

The books reappeared, all signed and dedicated—one dedicated for Elizabeth and one for Matthew. Since they could not be Harry’s with me, I wanted them to have a piece of this experience.

The chef was not at all annoyed to sign–he was, instead, thoroughly delighted to be asked. As we left the upstairs, the entire kitchen staff lined up like a receiving line, to say goodbye to me — a wall of white aprons and beautiful Italian smiles! The chef was in the kitchen which was just a tiny bit larger than the coat room nook—but he waived enthusiastically over the heads of his staff. They do not do that for everyone. It was a pretty amazing moment.

Down the wooden stairs, the lady emerged again from under the coats. The front room now was packed with people, and the staring and scanning was stronger, without a white coat to barrier us. People watched everyone coming or going, in part because people do that. In part, because the people at Harry’s are a fascinating selection.

I thought about Bill Cosby and how he lived so close to me in Lancaster MA (and raised and showed wire hair fox terriers). But very few people ever saw him coming or going. When I asked around about it, I learned there were private airports just for celebrities. Many flew into Hanscome Airfield in Concord. Just to maintain privacy.

I once saw a rock star jogging along the canal by the bridges on Cape Cod—she had a wall of body guards surrounding her, jogging at her pace: three across, three deep, three at the back. You could catch only a glimpse of her through these large bodies.

The rock star and Bill Cosby would like Harry’s. They would be served exquisite privacy. And amazing food.

Stories are told only about a very few visitors—some are in the books I bought. Hemingway was known to take four bottles of wine with him after dinner, to drink and write all evening. By morning the four bottles would be outside of his hotel room door, and presumably some text would have been birthed from it all. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip reportedly visited Harry’s. I can see that, easily.

While there was no Dorothy Parker in the downstairs room (I checked again on the way out ;o), I was reminded of her quote: “I do not know much about being a millionaire. But I bet I’d be darling at it.”

As I left Harry’s I knew through and through that I would be darling at it. I had just been treated like one for the evening and loved every moment of it. It was a spectacular evening in my book. I loved being treated like I was a little bit famous—even if I am only famous to my son and daughter in law. And I loved how the whole kitchen staff lined up to see this mother that was treated to dinner by her son and daughter in law.

Crème brûlée: a chef/vicar encounter

Citta della Pieve, Hotel Vanucci.

The waitress came towards us, whispering to herself under her breath so she could hold the message in English until she could spit it out to us.  “Mr. Peter, I have a message from the chef for you.  He said to tell you, ‘Since you are a man of your word, he is a man of his word.’  Your crème brûlée will be ready for you at dessert.”  She looked relieved.  I understood this — having held Italian phrases in my head until I could deliver them.

“Excellent,” Peter replied in his strong English accent.  “Inform the chef we are both men of honor, and I am delighted about that.  I expect to be delighted by the crème brûlée also.”

There is a new chef at The Vanucci.  The previous chef always knew when Peter was coming for lunch– Peter would book in a day or two ahead, even in the seasons when there was no danger of not having a table.  It is Peter’s way.  It is the proper thing to do.

Mio primo crème brûlée

Mio primo crème brûlée

And the previous chef also did the proper thing:  prepared crème brûlée for Peter and his guests, as a treat, without being asked.  Crème brûlée is never on the menu.  Yet, it always appeared when Peter did.  And now, it seems, the tradition may continue.   Last night, Peter booked today’s luncheon.  Last night, the chef had promised crème brûlée if Peter showed up for his reservation.

The waitress left us, and Peter muttered, “What’s this chap thinking?  The crème brûlée should have been prepared a long time ago.  If he’s just getting to it now, it will be hot, not proper crème brûlée at all.”   Here, clearly is a connoisseur of crème brûlée.  While I was indeed a crème brûlée virgin.  I had never had crème brûlée before, and was delighted to experience this treat for the very first time.

Peter Hurd, my friend and neighbor, is the vicar at the Anglican church here in Citta della Pieve.  Peter — referred to as Mr. Peter or Father Peter by townsfolk.   Peter is well known by sight and style, in town.

Lunch was lovely — we were eating outside in the garden, by the giant bayleaf tree, where in 2005 I saw the now-absent chef come out during dinner, cut off some leaves from the tree, and go back in to his cooking.  I had no idea bayleaves could also be shade trees! Our entries were delicious — cold cumcumber soup with yogurt (and a touch of fresh garlic), and taglialini with tartufo nero (fresh black truffle shavings).   Followed by the much anticipated crème brûlée.

The waitress returned–would we like fragiole (straweberries) with our crème brûlée?  “Indeed, please! –and on the side” (a la Meg Ryan from her When Harry Met Sally days).   I figured, if this was a special order, I could be a bit high maintenance and “on the side” just to change up my style.

Indeed, there was a playful high maintenance in this chef-vicar exchange.  Each seemed to be enjoying rising to the occasion.  In fact, it was the “rising to it” which helped make it an occasion!  If you request the best from someone, they often exceed your expectation.

For me, such was the case.   The crème brûlée arrived with a small parade — the waitress beaming, strawberries on the side, the crème brûlée  with a small paper “hat” for flourish.  And then, after a pause, the chef, to check our reactions.

Peter was correct — it was still warm.   Also delicious.  The crust thin, cracked to the spoon.  The crème not too sweet, nicely thick, a good texture.   I can see why Peter likes it.

EPC — Art vs. Craft

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There  is some lively discussion within  these interviews  about if and how you can learn writing from a teacher. Caroline Bird expresses skepticism, then off the tape revised her position, saying, “I think you can teach the craft of writing. The art of writing has to come from within, that cannot be taught.” Talent without discipline is not fruitful, but discipline without talent lacks effective voice.

Setting direction

RoadFirst time I drove a car, my father told me to get in to our aging Cadillac and drive it down the main street of Perkasie, our small town  In retrospect, I am impressed with his confidence in me, that he thought I had the skill of driving naturally.  Only thing I had ever driven before were dodgem cars, where the objective was to hit as many other cars as possible, aim right at them.  I knew the objective now was the opposite, to steer clear of all encounters, but otherwise, it seemed the same:  foot on pedal, there is a brake, and also there was a big hood ornament to steer by.

I learned to aim my bumper car by the hood ornament.  Sure, I’d keep an eye out for who was coming at me and how fast, and I’d gauge my speed and ability to dodge them, to get away, or to ram someone.  But during all forward motion my eyes were fixed on that hood ornament, to know where I was going.

So I took the driver’s wheel of our huge tan Cadillac 4-door automatic, and started down Fifth Street, paying strict attention to the hood ornament.  Shortly thereafter, my father started yelling. which happened regularly in Dodgem but this was a first in our sedan’s plush interior.  I was immediately scared.  Turns out I was driving perilously close to the cars on our right side.

Dad was interrogating me now, in a very loud voice.  “Why didn’t you see those cars?  What the heck are you doing?  You’re going to get us both killed.”

What I was doing, of course, was learning to drive.  Driving for the very first time. And keeping my eyes on the hood ornament.

I stopped the car.  Dad took the wheel.  And we drove home in silence.  Then Dad called a driving school and signed me up, which was much better for me.

First real lesson, first thing the instructor taught me was, keep your eyes fixed on where you want to go, not on where you are.  Look ahead, and see as far ahead as you can.  Steadily gaze there, and you can take in everything happening between your next visible destination, and your hood ornament.

When times are rough, I find myself aiming with my hood ornament again, pulling my focus way in. and watching out not to get slammed or slam into anything.  It keeps me moving, but does not necessarily help me reach my goal.  That’s when I remember the Cadillac, and I reset my sights and settle back for a longer drive.   It helps.

Imposter Syndrome, for authors

For those of us who truly care about writing, owning our author-ity as an author is sometimes a challenge, both because there is almost always a writer more successful than we are, and also because there are so many pretenders.

I was on a long bus trip across country years ago, and most of the people on the bus said they were writers or authors.  I did not declare myself, because though I was writing constantly, achieving a career in ” real” writing meant too much to me to declare yet at that stage.  Today, the field is even more packed with possible pretenders–hobby bloggers, or just those who reply a lot online can call themselves writers, and in a sense, authors… since they are technically published.

Italian impersonators for Johnny Depp and Elvis

Italian impersonators for Johnny Depp and Elvis

In psychology, the complex of not feeling “real” in one’s accomplishments is sometimes referred to as “the Imposter Syndrome” –one feels like an imposter. One of the writers I interviewed for my first book had already published two books, and in the interview she still could not call herself an author.  She said it took filling out her IRS 1040, when she entered “author” next to her income from the year–THAT was when she called herself an author, felt herself an author, and stepped into that identity.

I like the distinction between writer (who are many), and authors (who are fewer).  For me, an author carries the connotation of established achievement: either published as an author-ity in a subject, or established in publication–and is distinguished in the craft of writing.  Writer carries the connotation of a practitioner–one who practices and is engaged in the art of writing.

My moment of owning being an author was opening my first box of books arriving from The Writer Books  / Watson Guptill.  I opened it, pulled the book out, smelled it, and unexpectedly burst into sobs.  Deep belly animal like sobs, that I had no idea were there.  It wasn’t that the process had been difficult.  To the contrary–the interviews and writing process had been immensely transformative.

The sobs came from feeling I had made a contribution that could make a difference to others.  Freud said life was about sex and love.  To this, Jung added “and work.”  The sobs came from holding my work in my hands,work that I cared deeply about.   I had held probably more than 100 technical reports and manuals I had written, but none of them carried my writer DNA like this one did.

At that moment, I no longer felt like an imposter.  My identity shifted  from writer to author.

Software upgrades

When we grow emotionally, it affects people around us.  As we change the stance we take in the world, and the stance we take for ourselves, how people perceive and interact with us must also change.  But this doesn’t always happen simultaneously.  Often there is a lag,

For example, let’s say you’ve been a somewhat easy going person, and you let put downs roll off of you, without comment.  You come to realize that these put downs accumulate, like calcium on pipes, and start clogging up your self-esteem.  So you decide to take a stand for yourself and start responding to put downs, not by escalating them with aggression, but by calling them, naming them:  Foul ball!  Out of bounds!  Or just Ouch.   So you upgrade your internal operating system to include this new patch.

You’ve trained family, friends and co-workers how you operate.  They know the old interface, and they understand what input they can use with you.  So the putdowns come, as usual.  And they meet is your new Error Code response:   This will not run with me, please change input.

Your operating system version, and their operator protocol are out of sync.  You have a choice. You can either roll back to the earlier code, or wait until they upgrade to the new parameters.   Sometimes you have to help them upgrade, by explaining where things have changed and why.   Then you’ll be in sync again.  Until the next code change.

Restructuring time

Work creates a structure in our lives.  A steady job circumscribes our time.  Instead of circadian
rhythms, we adapt to corporate rhythms, rising with the echoes of old punch clocks and factory whistles, timing our commute to the tides of our Interstate rivulet.  Even our yearly cycles have the imprint of our work environment:  we choose our vacations to coincide or complement the company paid holidays.  We are aware of end of quarters, deadlines, big contract completions—whatever the deliverable bottom line is for our line of work.

But for those of us who are consultants, freelancers, or entrepreneurs, the rhythms change.  No need to rise to beat the traffic.  The Internet doesn’t have traffic jams, typically.  All the usual borders and boundaries of daily, weekly, quarterly rhythms are gone.  Friends and neighbors often assume you are available for anything anytime, instead of asking “is this a good time to …”

In talking with fellow un-employees transitioning to self-employment, we all agree this disorientation is a developmental stage of the transition process.  It is like having been a lobster, with a shell that moves us along, and suddenly we need to grow a skeleton.  Where work dictated the flows and tides, we now do.  And it takes a while.

There was a study where people were voluntarily kept in darkness for several months.  Given food when they requested it, the participants could eat, sleep, exercise according to their own rhythms.  And the results of this study showed that our natural biological rhythms were longer than 24 hours, when left to our own devices.  We have a range of between 26 to 28 hour natural body clock.

It us useful to find our cycles—but not in darkness or isolation.  We find them in high relief to various and unfamiliar rhythms of clients, corporations, social media and websites.  And in response to the varying schedules of our family and friends, with their expectations on our time.

The only ‘cure’ for this disorientation is to grow your own skeleton, to get very clear about what rhythms work for you.  Exercise early AM or late PM?  Make phone calls at 10 or 2?  Write and send letters morning or afternoon?

Figure out what your creative hours are—save them for your writing.  Assign tasks to your off-peak hours.  And take a day for input—for replenishing

NaBloPoMo: a post-Sandy alternative to NaNoWriMo

NaBloPoMo (nah-blow-POE-moe)  is a blog-centric riff on NaNoWriMo.  (nan-oh-WRY-moe). Lest you think I am writing gibberish, let me expand.

NoNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month –which occurs annually in November.

Their tag line is “November 1-30, 2012:  thirty days of literary abandon!”  Joining is free–over 300,000 writers do join–and you are linked to local NaNoWriMo chapters, where you will be invited to Write-ins at local coffee shops and library, as well as kick off and wrap up meetings throughout the month.  During your month of abandon, your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to produce a “novel” of at least 50,000 words.

“No plot? No problem!” is the e-book playbook that the NaNoWriMo founder wrote.  The point is, to get yourself started writing and once started, don’t stop.  If you complete 50,000 words (verified by uploading the files, which can be encrypted to protect your manuscript), then you get bragging rights as a 2012 NaNoWriMo WINNER!  And can display a badge saying so.  You can also buy tee shirts, posters, thermos,  and other motivating at their online store.

Whole families have been known to NaNoWriMo together, all month.  Many writers repeat.  Participation is international at this point–wrimo’ing has been going on for years.  There are so many WriMo writers that Amazon’s CreateSpace has created  a special offer for Nanowrimo writers to self-publish their novels, should they have a palatable product.

I had planned to WriMo this month. and benefit from the forums and motivational “lectures’ and meetings that are organized locally.  However, Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy hit hard here in Central New Jersey, and without power the beginning of the month, it was a challenge to start off strongly.

So I looked around for alternatives and discovered NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month.  This effort is much smaller (more like 300 bloggers rather than 300,000 writers) and newer, with a more modest demand to succeed.  Instead of 50,000 words in 30 days with literary abandon, to succeed at NaBloPoMo one needs to create a blog post every day of November.  Badges are also involved, and a sign up.  But after that you are mostly on your own.  The sponsoring organization is BlogHer and they run a blog posting “month” every month–suggesting themes for each month, with a blogroll.  November 2012’s theme is “Blogging for Blogging’s Sake.”

So if you wondered why my posts have been more frequent, I am posting daily, in the spirit of a rained out NaNoWriMo, happily tucked in the organization of a NaPBloPoMo.    Enjoy!

 

EPC — Allowing for Change

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Rachel Vail’s “Permission not to have to be Mozart” really resounds for me. I have wrestled with the myth that, to write and let you read it, my thinking  has to be fully mature, complete, finished—and that five years from now, I’d agree 100% with what I wrote. There is something daunting about the permanence  of the written word. A phone call fades, even e-mail is more likely to be deleted than not. But a written  note can be taken out and read over and over again, over time. And it continues to speak from the person who wrote it—who I might not be in five years.

EPC — Integrating Voices

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We are sometimes pressured  to be homogeneous, to be all one mode: all nice, or all pro or con an issue, clear and uncomplex. Yet when I find a personal truth, very often it is a paradox, combining both polarities. Truth inside out. We can love fiercely, and disagree vehemently. So we can write clearly and ambivalently, in focus and confusion, clearly committed and questioning. We can choose to be broad, with texture  and dimensions, messy and stainless-steel polished.

Speaking  and writing  with  your own voice does not mean  silencing parts, but integrating  them. Like the Tibetan monks, who chant with two tones, we do not have to speak in just one voice.

EPC — Assessing Achievements

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A study tested the difference between men and women’s perceptions of their own achievements. Each gender group took a test and then received their results. The results were rigged, as was the ease of the test: one set of tests was very difficult, and scores were reported  low, regardless of performance. The second set of tests was extremely easy and results were falsely reported high.

Then the men and women were asked, “To what do you attribute your performance?” The results were astounding.

EPC — Un-premeditated Voice

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It was a warm August evening in New York, about 11 p.m. We had all just come from seeing Marcel Marceau’s “Last Concert in America” (the first one of several; he changed his mind a few times) and were digest- ing this visual feast of silent communication, so the crowd was talking softly and going slowly. Except for one man.

This fella had his arm around a glitzy woman. They both were walk ing with a swagger, and his sarcasm knifed into my awareness: “I’m going to get on the train now, and go home to Connecticut. The little woman will have the kids in bed, and she’s going to say, ‘Oh, Honey, how hard you work, staying in the office this late, what can I get you?’” I spun away from my husband  and in-laws and right into his face, 

EPC — Choosing Voice

Choosing voice is about  application: When  do we speak and when do we keep silent? What do we choose to give voice to and what do we choose to ignore, or remain  silent with? Using our voice is taking  a stand, defining ourselves.

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In any given situation there are three basic choices: exit, loyalty, or voice. We can leave, disassociate, or remove ourselves; we can remain loyal to the  situation,  supporting  or with  silent  consent;  or we can choose to give voice—and thereby express our unique perspective.

EPC — Voice as Defense

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Voice is our protector.   Here is an excerpt from my book Women Voice and Writing, to help you think about this…

In a self-defense class, our instructor Peg taught that the voice is always the first line of defense. “Speak up. If you are being attacked, yell. It helps retard shock and shallow breathing. If you yell, your lungs fill up and you are more grounded  and present than if you move into a flight response.”  Peg instructs  our class of 18 women to stomp our feet and yell “No!” then scream “911” all together.

We do this, loudly. A good deal of sound comes out. Then we laugh, a bit uncomfortable from our uncharacteristic shout. But one young woman is in tears. Peg, our instructor, asks her, “What’s going on?” The twenty-something  woman says, “I’ve never yelled ‘NO!’ before, and it scared me. And it felt so good.”

EPC — Creative wounds, or, the value of hard times

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Another excerpt from  my book Women Voice and Writing.

Megan LeBoutillier used the term “creative wound.”  There is an archtype of the wounded  healer. The theory is that one needs to go through a healing crisis oneself, facing death or near death, before  one  can  come  into  the  fullness  of  her  healing  power.  Only though the alchemy of this kind of transformation, then, can one understand and minister to others in healing.

Wounding may not be necessary to attain depth of voice. But if one has been through  a crisis—creative or personal, that crisis can be used in service of strengthening voice. And clarifying voice.

EPC — A Matter of Time

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There is a myth that one needs to make huge caverns of quiet time to write. The reality is that  most writers  begin in the margins  of their unquiet  life, and  move to full-time writing  as occupation  only after many years. Writing in the margins becomes especially complicated for women with  work, relationship, and  children.  The myth  of needing  time to write full-time may be confused with the need for some combination of solitude,  silence, and  stillness  in order  to write.

Here is an excerpt from my book Women Voice and Writing, to help you think about this…

Letting your work “cool” so you can cut into it


Stephen King lets his books “sit” for 6 weeks after he has written them. He says he is sometimes tempted to go admire a sentence that came out just right, or go fix something that he’s been mulling over, but if he RESISTS going back and just lets it SIT, then when he returns, he can see the book well enough to reshape it and polish it.

I liken it to letting a cake cool If one cuts into their writing too soon, without the cooling off period, then the cake can sink. If you wait too long, it goes stale and it is tougher to get back into the shaping.

Once this second pass (post-cooling off) happens for me, then I usually “know” (gut feel) if the work is ready, and if I am ready, to release it. Some authors I interviewed spoke about the difficulty of letting a book go, because it finds it way into the world. Like letting a child go to kindergarten–it will find bullies, unexpected friends,  things will happen to your creation that you have no control over. So there are two timings to consider.  There is the time when that the work itself is ready and then there is also the question of when the author is ready, to release their work.

I think the answer is easier for non-fiction. What I found when doing research was, when the authors started repeating each other, I had come full circle. I could tell I had fished out that pond and it was time to complete the interviews. Similarly for the writing — it had a natural feeling end.

For fiction, it is not as clear for me–there is always a character who wants more attention. Negotiating with the character to see if they can “keep” until the next story is part of completion for me.

EPC — The Athleticism of Voice

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Sometimes when you are creating, you just need to put a lot of muscle into it. Here is an excerpt from my book Women Voice and Writing.

We have a myth that the Muse visits, like the tooth fairy, giving inspiration. This can of course  happen,  but  in its own  unique,  un-forcible timing. Until then, and to woo the Muse, we need to sweat.

Rachel Vail touched on this myth first in my interviews, when she talked about the athleticism of writing:

EPC — Motivation

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What motivates you as a writer?  What keeps you going, or rather coming back to the blank page (or screen)?  Here is an excerpt from my book Women Voice and Writing, to help you think about this…

I was in a group of writers that met for two years to try to collaboratively write a book together.  We  learned a lot about different approaches  to writing,  and  a lot more  about  each other. We were  a tremendously  rich  resource  for  one  another,  an  unlikely  group  of women. Left to our own devices, we would not probably have chosen each other as friends, yet the process of attending to task blossomed friendship within it.

However, after 18 months, we had copious outlines for our book, and no real writing yet. We had pieces here and there, but we kept losing momentum, then would regain it. It looked like our fire was going out.