WRITING WITH PURPOSE

WHEN a poem, a chapter, a book begin to take shape … it can feel like a revelation. “Something” is there … but what? We wait. And wait. And most of all, we listen. To the wind. To the silent clouds. To the birds or the voices in a dream. To whatever seems suddenly … there. Where were those insights before? What is it about time that causes the wind to shift … internally? Or … do we imagine the entire process in the first place? Questions of time and awareness may not be on the minds of too many people, but, perhaps, they should be … perhaps.

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Maybe, however, those of us called to the writing table are simply more persistently drawn to the mysteries of life.

The existential. The vague, the fleeting, the profound. The intuitive nudge. Nascent, yet, compelling ideas that seem to defy expression on the page.

The motivation to explore the poignant depths of the human experience flow, for me, from a desire to escape the trite, repetitive nature of generic information that seems to be everywhere. Surface analysis. Superficial analysis. Nothing that actually manages to penetrate the darkness of existence. The interminable suffering. Or human nature and how it never seems to evolve, not much … anyway. Layers of unspoken observations no one dares to “see.” Ideas of “polite” conversation bordering on ridiculous, boring, artificial and compliant, even nonsensical.

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” ― Voltaire

Writers are gardeners.

Always tending to a sentence, carefully choosing words, lest confusion or misunderstanding flow from the page. An urge that seems to beckon from somewhere beyond time itself, the need to write can feel like being trapped in a funny dream that won’t let me wake up until the story (nonfiction, fiction, memoir, poetry, essay) is told.

What to make of all of this?

“What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There’s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity … .” ― Michael Crichton, The Lost World

Yes, conformity is clearly something most writers shun.

While formula fiction exists and certain themes are grossly overworked (just walk through any bookstore or browse online), when I set out to write it’s because I want to find the creative edge. The place I haven’t gone before in the creative sense. It’s an adventure, a challenge, an opportunity to explore the depths of the soul.

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

What questions motivate you to dig deeper, to move beyond the repetitive dictates of your mind? How might you explore them anew? While this kind of thing may not be at the top of your to-do list, why not put it there … why not?

Maybe that is the secret to life. We’ll never know, for certain, but I can’t help but believe that our true purpose is something other than we think it is. So each time I encounter the blank page, I write with this in mind. Try to push myself to find the kernel of truth in an experience, an encounter, a feeling that comes and goes so quickly, I can’t quite catch it. When I write poetry, for example, the last line often comes to me just when I think the poem will never fully reveal itself. To me, to readers. A fascinating process I could never tire of or take for granted. One that begs for patience and persistence. One that honors the mysterious layers of intelligence that surround us.

The funny thing is that seeking awareness doesn’t require a great deal of “seeking.” It simply requires an openness to encountering whatever is unknown, and that is nearly everything. ~ dh

“All it takes for generosity to flow is awareness. By actively pursuing awareness and knowledge, we can make choices that cause less harm and greater good to others in the global community of our shared earth.”
Zoe Weil, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

Thanks for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again in a few weeks.

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Supporting My Soul

It’s such a pleasure to introduce my Studio Guest, author Mary L. Tabor.  Living in the snow capital of our nation, Mary is an inspired, and inspiring, writer.  She was also my first guest in this sunny space, in 2010.  I’m honored to have her back for another visit for the 4th year anniversary of this creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.

Mary has an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has also published three books (including a new novel, Who by Fire, winner of the Notable Indie Fiction Award), and writes a column for The Washington Times.  I know you will love this wonderful piece about the transformational aspects of art.

Mary is also a teacher, one who believes deeply in the wisdom of the process.

The teacher must come to her student with a deep concern
for the artist–indeed every person carries an artist within him–and
yet our first efforts often fail. ~
Mary L. Tabor

mlt1

On Reading Lewis Hyde’s The Gift
by Mary L. Tabor

I first read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, now in its 25-year anniversary edition, in the mid-eighties and I began to breathe again, I began to write to live—and I don’t mean support myself.

Or is that what I mean? For I did support my soul.

I began writing with my life’s breath in 1987 when my first piece, an elegiac tribute to my mother, was published in The New York Jewish Week—between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the time of self-reflection for Jews. It was not the best thing I’ve written, but I risked. I mailed it out, knowing it could have been better, knowing that I am not as good as many of the essayists and memoirists I have read, knowing that some, perhaps many, would judge me as not good enough.

But I also knew that judgment opposes the creative way. Judgment throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Some ten years later, I entered the writing life hook, line and sinker. No one should do this without reading Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift and his extended explanation of art as a gift exchange. This book changed my life, gave me breath and hope.

With Hyde’s book in my pocket, I took Auden’s advice from his poem “Leap Before You Look” and quit my corporate job to sit down and write full-time. I did so with Hyde’s books as my guide.

The search through confusion is central to the writing process, a process that for me has two essential parts: the belief that the search matters and the study of literature. The two are inextricable for me.

Some eat to live. I read to live. Lewis Hyde’s book opens with the chapter entitled, “Some Food We Could Not Eat,” and it is here that he lays out his premise that art must operate as a gift exchange. On its most simple level he posits the “paradox of gift exchange: when the gift is used, it is not used up.”

Artists who do not understand this, expect remuneration—and art rarely provides money because it is not actually a commodity. As Hyde says in the introduction to the 1979 edition, “A necessary corollary seems to follow the proposition that a work of art is a gift: there is nothing in the labor of art itself that will automatically make it pay. Quite the opposite in fact.”

The endeavor to make something “other,” and each of us who tries hopes that that “other” may be viewed as “art,” but like all endeavors that support the soul, the effort itself is transformational.

For me that transformation operates through what is known and what is unknown.

What is known can be sourced.

rosesHyde reads widely and deeply and he sources every quote he uses, some 20 permissions, some quite complex, cover two pages of fine print at the start of the book; extensive notes for each chapter end the book. (As an aside, do see the note at the end of this essay on the permissions process and its cost: a paradox Hyde does not address.)

Hyde spends the first half of his book on what he titles “The Theory of Gifts.” In chapter one he tells us, “Tribal peoples distinguish between gifts and capital.” The next three chapters rely on American Indian Tribes, myths, the Talmud, AA, the mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and many others to explain what he means by a gift exchange or, as he quotes British anthropologist Wendy James, the assertion that “one man’s gift must not be another man’s capital.” He moves in the second half of the book to discuss and to quote Whitman, Pound, Eliot, Pinter and many other poets and writers.

The Gift, with its carefully sourced notes, points all of us to other books and to the importance of both living and reading in order to write. His book points us to other artists, the study of the art that moves us, that transforms us and for which we stand in grateful wonder—even awe.

But Lewis Hyde also profoundly understands and explains—at the same time that he quotes others over and over, as he leads us to other books—the transformational power of what I call here un-sourced attentiveness. He understands that wonder is the vehicle for creative work.

A new friend and emerging writer Jennifer Cooreman sent me this quote by the poet Mary Oliver:

Ten times a day something happens to me like this — some strengthening throb of amazement — some good empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.

I can’t find the source for this quote, meaning not that Mary Oliver said it, but where and when she did so. I hate not knowing that—though not-knowing is key to all my fiction and memoir, something Lewis Hyde does talk about in his essential-to-any-artist book.

As Mary Oliver in my un-sourced quote—except that we know she said it or wrote it somewhere (Please if you have the source, send it to me!)—as she tells us, attentiveness is the key to the creative way. Attentiveness leads to wonder. The wonder we experience  strikes us as indefinable, hard to put into words or paint, but the artist forges ahead, afloat on the sea of awe and in a state of gratitude for the gift he does not fully understand.

Here’s how Hyde explains what I mean: “Not all artists use these very words, but there are few artists who have not had the sense that some element of their work comes to them from a source they do not control.”  …

  • I hope you will continue reading this wonderful piece (where it first appeared in its entirety) in Facts & Arts.
  • Thank you, Mary, for bringing your incredible insight to SunnyRoomStudio — if you would like to visit Mary’s website or read her books, you won’t be disappointed.  Mary puts her heart and soul into her work, so I’m also pleased to have her here for Valentine’s Day.  (Mary L. Tabor photo by William Holloway.)
  • When you finish reading this guest post at Facts & Arts, you’ll find a convenient link to her novel, Who by Fire.  I’m sure Mary would appreciate any questions about her work, in the comment section below.  You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and she has a book club on Goodreads.

And speaking of Goodreads, I found this wonderful quote there by Lewis Hyde.

“An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that ‘begging bowl’ to which the gift is drawn.”

(Lewis Hyde bio: For six years Hyde taught writing at Harvard University where, in his last year, he was director of the creative writing faculty. He has taught at Kenyon College since 1989 where he is currently the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. He and his wife, Patricia Vigderman, divide their time between Gambier, Ohio and Cambridge.)

  • If you have read The Gift, please share your impressions with Mary.  Thank you for stopping by!cropped-0420021335.jpg
  • Last week I launched a new 4-month spiritual journal called Turning Within.  Like the online journal from 2013, I will post every other Friday morning. Guest posts will be sprinkled in between regular journal entries.

Next journal entry: Friday, 2-21-14.  I look forward to seeing you again then.

And for now, will leave you with this question …

  • What gifts of self can we share with the world? Do we ask this question enough; how do we answer it? ~ dh

And speaking of gifts … if you’d like to know more about Mary–the many gifts she has already shared with the world–here’s a more detailed bio.

Mary L. Tabor is the author of the novel Who by Fire, the connected short story collection The Woman Who Never Cooked, which won Mid-List Press’s First Series Award and was published when she was 60. Her short stories have won numerous literary awards. Her memoir (Re)Making Love is a modern real-life love story that has been profiled in Real Simplemagazine. She interviews other artists via Rare Bird BlogTalk Radio in her Goodreads Book Club and she and other authors exchange and discuss books with the members. A born and bred liberal, she writes an occasional column on the arts, love and creativity for The Communities at The Washington Times and for FactsandArts.com. Her experience spans the worlds of journalism, business, education, fiction and memoir writing, landing her in both Marquis Who’s Who in America and Marquis Who’s Who of American Women and she is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She taught creative writing for more than a decade at George Washington University, was a visiting writer and professor at University of Missouri-Columbia in their graduate creative writing program. The Smithsonian’s Campus-on-the-Mall, where she taught for many years, has called her “One of our most prized lecturers on the subjects of Getting Started as a Writer and Starting Late.” She has appeared on the XM Satellite radio book-talk show “This Is Audible” to discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. ♥

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Small Book, Big Ideas

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week I’m picking a book by David Lynch from my shelf: Catching the Big Fish — Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006, Penguin).

Lynch is creativity personified.  Oscar-nominated filmmaker, visual artist, musician, author, and so on, Lynch is someone nearly everyone has heard of in one context or another.  Yet, I doubt too many would call him “mainstream.”

It seems like he has always worked the creative edge in his extensive career including establishment of the David Lynch Foundation For Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace.  

From a one-page chapter called, Advice, Lynch writes:

“Stay true to yourself. Let your voice ring out, and don’t let anybody fiddle with it. Never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea. And meditate. It’s very important to experience that Self, that pure consciousness. It’s really helped me. I think it would help any filmmaker. So start diving within, enlivening that bliss consciousness. Grow in happiness and intuition.”

But what does the book title, Catching the Big Fish, refer to?

Lynch believes that ideas are like fish.

Shallow waters are where the smaller ideas reside.  But the deep water harbors fish (and ideas) that are more “powerful and pure.”

“If you can expand the container you’re fishing in–your consciousness–you can catch bigger fish.”

  • Whether or not you know his work or not (like it or dislike it), Lynch is tapping into bigger ideas that could change the world.

“One of the main things that got me talking publicly about Transcendental Meditation was seeing the difference it can make to kids. Kids are suffering. Stress is now hitting them at a younger and younger age, at just about the time they get out of the crib.”

Where do you go for ideas?  Ever explored the deeper waters?

Lynch mentions the Unified Field.  A term actually coined by Albert Einstein, physicists continue to explore various explanations and possibilities, like string theory, that enfold and support a Theory of Everything — a framework that encompasses all forces and all matter.

Fascinating work.

And Lynch suggests that as your consciousness–your awareness–expands, the deeper you go toward this field.  This source.

  • Clearly, we live in a world that needs better ideas for just about everything.  So, go fishing, right?  But maybe you’ll want to avoid the shallow waters.  Let you consciousness explore new pathways.

 Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.
Looking for book suggestions? 

I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

See you again next Friday, October 25th, as our 3-month review of the books on my shelf continues.
I hope you are also digging into the books on your shelves.  Dust them off.  Open to page “whatever.”
Sit down, read your favorite chapter.  Read the first page, the last page.

Journal about your discoveries.  A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

Enjoy the journey. ~ dh

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Journey of Inquiry

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Words are only words.  Stories, just stories.  Books, mere books.  But if a book, an author, has touched your soul even once, you understand the depth of connection possible between writer and reader.  You have had a glimpse of time contained, of spiritual energy used to create and share art.  And you have accessed information that can take you beyond self — the egocentric nature of human existence.  That’s a form of freedom.  A way to learn more about empathy, compassion, and the journey of inquiry we were born to complete.

  • Books that speak to us (often in ways we can’t even identify clearly) allow us to develop a more expansive view of the world.  They also allow us to explore, more deeply, what lies within, and yet, beyond.

Now, through December, I’ll be sharing some thoughts about books — some are on my shelf, in waiting.  Some I’ve read once, maybe twice.  And some offered life-changing ideas by allowing me into an author’s world in a memorable way.  As a writer, I find that too often people think of the world of books as the world of publishing.  But the two worlds are not created equal.  Far from it.

One is about creative inspiration; one is about economics, marketing, packaging, spinning, and publishing books that appeal to mainstream, mass markets that easily gain the attention of media giants.  A generalization, yes.  There are exceptions to everything.

Some publishers are a bit inspired, truly; some authors are content to go for big markets, big publishers, and worry less about creating “art.”

Everything is on a continuum … everything is relative.  But I’m sure you get my point.

The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts.
~ John Greenleaf Whittier

  • Today’s selection from my bookshelf is: This I Believe — The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.  

My bookmark is on page 175.  It’s an essay by Gregory Orr called “The Making of Poems”.

He begins: “I believe in poetry as a way of surviving emotional chaos, spiritual confusion, and traumatic events that come with being alive.”

He goes on to explain how he was responsible for the death of his younger brother.  A hunting accident when Gregory was 12.  “In a single moment, my world changed forever.”

  • Has your life ever changed forever in a single moment?  Does this author make you feel “less alone,” if you have?

Orr also writes: “In the aftermath, no one in my shattered family could speak to me about my brother’s death, and their silence left me alone with all my agonizing emotions.  And under those emotions, something even more terrible: a knowledge that all the easy meanings I had lived by until then had been suddenly and utterly abolished.”

All the easy meanings … that phrase resonates deeply with me.

Of course going beyond easy meanings is the beginning of  spiritual liberation, but I’m pretty sure a 12-year-old didn’t understand that.  Not many adults understand that.

  • Do you know anyone who lives by those “easy meanings,” as though they meant something real?  It’s a sad, frightening thing to watch, and some would say, simply part of the human condition at this point in history.

If you’d like to read more by Gregory Orr, his memoir is called: The Blessing.  He’s also written many books of poetry, and when Holt published this collection of essays in 2007, Orr was (and still is) a professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia.  His memoir was selected by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of 2002.

You cannot open a book without learning something.  ~ Confucius

I hope you will also explore your bookshelf during this 3-month series in SunnyRoomStudio.  Close your eyes and select a book, open it to any page.  Find a passage, even a brief phrase, that says something unforgettable; something that touches your soul.  Share that passage with someone.  Share it here, as a comment.

  • The business of publishing is one thing; the art of writing and reading is quite another.

Avoid the drama created by the publishing industry … it is only a distraction from what’s important about books and authors.  I, for one, have always valued the gift of books, as: companions, sources of inspiration and connection, a way to discover the vast world beyond self.

When I hear someone say, “I don’t read,” I wonder what they do that is so much more important.  Is there no need to learn and explore, no need to grow in the personal and spiritual sense?  No need to venture into the unknown.

Let books (in whatever format) become part of your “journey of inquiry” … what do you want to know more about?  What will take you beyond a superficial existence … beyond “all the easy meanings” in life?

The answer might be on your bookshelf.

Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines,
and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.
If you are looking for book suggestions, I maintain an informal list here in SRS.
See top menu or click here.

See you again next Friday morning, October 18th.  Have a good week!

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A Sense of Promise

Easter memories.  Many of mine are of special moments when life seemed filled with promise.  Of course now I understand, that from a spiritual perspective, we are the promise.

When young, it seems we think that life’s “promise” is external to “self.”  Something we have to find or build, something we have to do, something other people might create for us.  Children, for instance, are often part of this equation.  Our idea of “promise” is sometimes caught up in the lives of our children: what they are doing, how things are going, and so on.

Yes, those elements of promise are all external.

They allow us to avoid development of our spiritual worlds.  They put the focus on someone or something else.

When, spiritual realization, must always come from within.

So, for Easter, or anytime really, release other people from creating your happiness.  From giving your life meaning and purpose.

Look within for what has always been there … waiting for you to notice.  Contentment.  Peace.  Joy.  A sense of spiritual promise.

It’s really a simple matter of taking responsibility for ourselves in a way that doesn’t create misery for other people.  That doesn’t drain other people with unreasonable demands and endless requests.  It never works.  It never will work.

For the answers, the comfort and happiness we seek, is primarily found within.

I grew some hollyhocks a few years ago and there was something so inspiring about them.  They stood tall and bright, yet, caring for them was so simple.  Water and sunlight.  Basic elements of nature. Not high-maintenance, yet, so lovely to be around, to contemplate.

We could all learn a few things from this colorful summer plant.  This flower that has been around forever.  The hollyhock attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  From Landscape America …

The name “hollyhock” has been used to refer to the flowers in England since the 13th century, although it was originally spelled holihoc, a portmanteau of holi, for holy, and hoc, for mallow. The plant was also referred to as St. Cuthbert’s Cole, suggesting that it may have been included in religious gardens such as those at churches and monasteries.

While all flowers offer tremendous beauty, I’ve always loved the poetry of hollyhocks. How they look delicate, yet, strong.  How they are part of my childhood memories.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.
They just open up and turn toward the light and
that makes them beautiful. 

~Jim Carrey

  • Hollyhocks have inspired artists and poets over the years.

Take French painter, Bertha Morisot, for instance.

Roses Tremieres(hollyhocks), oil on canvas, dates back to 1884.  You can see the original at the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris.  She also painted Child Among Hollyhocks in 1881.  Morisot was one of the Impressionists and prints of her work can be found online if you are interested.

  • Edgar A. Guest wrote a poem called “Hollyhocks” that closes with these words:

The mind’s bright chambers, life unlocks
Each summer with the hollyhocks.

  • You can find the poem in its entirety at Plant Whatever Brings You Joy by Kathryn Hall.

Happy Easter weekend to all.

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