WRITING

AN EVENING WITH PAM HOUSTON

I was meditating this morning as I have been doing almost every single morning for four months now. I sat cross legged on the hard surface of the floor, small pillow slightly under my behind for some added support, palms resting on my knees, open to the sky, open to the possibilities of what lies ahead and above. As usual, my mind drifted in and out of future and past thoughts, then back to center, to the glorious now, weaving in and out of the traffic of my busy brain.  Sometimes this is all meditation is for me, a busy freeway of past and future thoughts with bursts of the present. Through this practice, I have learned that this is the practice.

On many occasions though, ideas and thoughts start snap crackle and popping just as the ads for a bowl of Rice Crispies proclaimed back in the days when kids ate cereal as a nutritious breakfast. Do kids still eat cereal for breakfast? I don’t know since my son is mostly on his own these days away at college. I can wager a guess that the only cereal consumed is the type that gets gobbled down after a night out on a college weekend. But cereal or no cereal, meditation along with almost daily writing have become a nutritious healthy breakfast and I am more grounded and sane because of this practice. This is the pleasant and surprising outcome of this discipline I have added to my mornings.

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a writing class from a woman named Pam Houston sponsored by The Cardigan Connection, my new-found friends Robin and Emily Homonoff of the famed Reading With Robin in Providence, RI.  Twenty-five bright eyed women sat together in an odd venue choice, kind of a bar, music space, sitting with pens and paper or laptops eagerly waiting for Pam to shine her expertise on our aspiring writing lives. Most of us were in our forties and above, I am guessing that the price tag of the class deterred the twenty somethings, but there we sat all hoping to learn another nugget about the craft we love.

Once I made the commitment to writing, I have been inundated with the business side of writing, advice, workshops, blogs, events endlessly abound most with a hefty price tag. Like Alanon has taught me for over twenty years, I must be disciplined enough to take what I need and leave the rest. Between reading, doing my morning writing and taking writing classes I have come to realize that some of these activities, though valuable, are distracting me from actually writing the historical fiction book I have in my heart.

The only way a book is going to get written is to sit down and write it. No amount of classes, trips to the library to read more historical fiction and daily blog writing will make my book come alive. Surely it is helpful and  I am humble enough to know that this is all part of the process. Slow and steady, no rush. I don’t think this book will come from waking up in the morning, locking myself in my house and writing for forty-eight straight hours. On the other hand, it is surely not going to write itself.

What Pam Houston spoke of was her own writing style, how she has written for decades and the results of her writing actual books. She said something that surprised me, that she does not write every day, that in fact she can go weeks or months without writing. This gave me a sense of relief in some ways because two things happen to me when I am not writing. One is I feel absurd pressure to write, all self induced, but still there taking up brain space and time. Two is guilt, surely not a good attribute to become a better writer. I love to write, but sometimes the tank is empty and it needs refueling. A break is often the best solution. Pam saying this a loud was both reassuring and calming to this overactive overachiever brain in my head.

The other offering I received from Pam was what she called Glimmers. Of all of her presentation that I loved, this was my favorite as it gave credence to the pictures I see wherever I go. Some people who take photos for a living see scenes and snap pictures of them, for me I see the same scenes and stories unfold at the speed of light. Many writers would say this, I am sure. Pam used the word Glimmers to define this and it resonated with me immediately.

For example, I may be walking down the street and I see an old woman struggling with her groceries. I offer to help her and she smiles with a bright welcome relief eagerly accepting my gift of help. I notice her coat is bright red as are her pants, her blouse, the buttons on her blouse. So is her lipstick and her nail polish which immediately makes me curious about her life. It is here that a story unfolds, just not yet. I write the few sentences down. This is what Pam referred to as a glimmer. This short experience may not be the story or a story in itself, but may eventually become part of something later. Or it may become its own story or nothing at all. Regardless, the picture needs to be captured and developed so it is not forgotten.

I see glimmers constantly. Pam gave this experience of mine a voice and a house for them to reside in. Her presentation was a short one; we were only there for two hours and we wrote for about forty minutes of that time. Glimmers. I could have sat for two days listening and writing more with Pam as a guiding force. As it turns out, Pam does these hiking writing combo workshops in places like Colorado and France that make me want to charge up one of these on my beautiful balance free credit cards. Instead I call upon that deep meditative breath that has become my new best morning friend and acknowledge what I need to do is simply take all I have learned from the five or six writing classes I have taken in the past few years and seriously continue to schedule the time to write. To actually write and research my ideas. No writing class is going to do this for me at this point. Later yes, but right now, I must work on developing my own writing practice. What I learned from Pam Houston in the short time I had the privilege of her time this past week is we all have our stories. There is no perfect way to write except to actually write them.

In my meditation this morning, the idea that every day is Groundhog Day popped into my head. One of my favorite movies where Bill Murray gets a do over every day, over and over again until he learns the lesson. Right in front of all of us if we have the luxury of waking up today is a new day, our own Groundhog Day where we can start fresh like it is the first day. The hell with a new year, how about a new day? Isn’t this amazing to think that every waking day is a chance to get it right? Whatever your it is? Mine is completing my idea for a historical fiction novel. What Pam Houston taught me is every glimmer that has come into my viewfinder may end up being a part of this story so today I roll up my sleeves and get to work like it is the brand new day that it is. #luckyindeed.

Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right.

oprah winfrey

I think I would say Cheers to a new day.

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