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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SPEAKING OF INSPIRATION

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

I’ve always been drawn to visual images. Photographs. Paintings. Sketches. Even doodles that take on a life of their own. The collaboration of images and words … well, it’s pure magic, of course. And since we all could use a dose of inspiration in January, why not focus on this very combination? Here’s a photograph by Mary T. Hercher, for instance. I love the color contrast, the “electric blue,” as she put it, against the steadfast evergreen. The picture points to many things: the bounty of nature, the insistence of creation itself, the importance of protecting and appreciating the environment, awareness of the natural beauty that readily flows from something organic and lasting.

What do you see in Hercher’s photograph?      

“Feeling a little blue in January is normal.”
~ Marilu Henner
MANY great poets have written about the poetry of nature. Trees, in particular. Personally, I can’t imagine a yard without plenty of trees. I grew up seeing plenty of cottonwood trees along the Missouri River, and scattered elsewhere on the prairie like afterthoughts. But the evergreen, it’s year-round beauty, is especially rewarding to gaze upon. Most, tall and stately, seem oblivious to everything going on around them, as they insistently stretch skyward … with a touch of inspiration for anyone who cares to notice.

 I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,
and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
~ e. e. cummings
THEN there is the phenomenal artist, Paul C. Jackson. I couldn’t mention inspiration without mentioning Jackson (AWS, NWS American Watercolorist) in the same breath. A prolific artist and ambitious world traveler, he is one of today’s most versatile and visible contemporary watercolorists. Whether his subject is landscape, cityscape, portrait, architecture, still life or abstract, Jackson captivates his audience with genuine emotion, intensity and finesse that energize each of his creations.

Music is often the focus of Paul’s art. Here, for instance, is “Lovesong” (20 x 26 watercolor), a new painting from Jackson.
Inspired by a series of Adele performances that Paul and friends enjoyed at Madison Square Garden in New York in September 2016,
this painting was selected for inclusion in the American Watercolor Society’s 150th Annual International Exhibition (Salmagundi Club,
New York City April 3-22, 2017). Paul notes that “this is the most prestigious exhibition for a watercolorist.”

PAUL was also the artist behind my recent book cover for The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone. I needed artwork that depicted a depth of emotion for my memoir that studies the dynamics of sudden loss while seriously venturing into the spiritual realm of life’s deepest mysteries. After looking at several of Jackson’s paintings, I knew the one he also decided to name “Silence of Morning” was a perfect choice. The words, the overall sentiment of the book, truly could be “seen” in Paul’s painting. Not only was the artwork beautiful, but Jackson has always valued collaboration with other artists and can find a viable creative edge for nearly any project no matter how far afield it may seem from the world of watercolors. When words and images come together … the possibilities are endless.

I must mention, however, that Paul may come by his tremendous creative spirit somewhat naturally. Nancy Jackson, his mother, recently completed a handmade quilt that features the names of authors she’s followed or admired or read. Included: William Least Heat-Moon (of Blue Highways fame), Paul Jackson (as he is also an author), and my name, as well. Nancy gathered the individual quilt blocks over a span of years; each author personally signing his or her name on each block for inclusion in her project. I was honored to be asked. The end result is outstanding! Amazing! Following the work of Jennie Doan, the quilt pattern author, Nancy has created a true work of art. I hope it is displayed in a  prominent place one day soon. Here then is the Nancy Jackson piece that beautifully illustrates that expansive and magical merger of words and images.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

INSPIRATION is also important to another artist I admire a great deal. Canadian contemporary artist, Terrill Welch, is an impressionist painter and photographer who seems to find tremendous joy in her work. A lovely commonality among all of my featured artists, actually. There must be something intrinsic to the artistic soul that moves universe itself. 

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

WHEN you visit Terrill’s website, you’ll find this: British Columbia artist and photographer Terrill Welch’s quick sure painting strokes, and photographic images capture forest, sandstone, sea and sky.  They remind us that there is only one moment – this one. Since 2010, more than 80 of Terrill Welch’s paintings of various sizes and significantly more of her photography prints have found their way into private collections. Many of these paintings have sold while still work-in-progress or resting wet on the easel.

I have been following her work for at least seven years now. Though unsure how I first spotted her artistic hand and upbeat presence, once you gaze at a Welch landscape, it’s not easy to stop thinking about where you would hang a piece of her artwork if you were lucky enough to have such a worry. Artistic work that hangs in our memory like a an endurable feeling, like a source of lasting inspiration, is a sure sign of something authentic and true.

  Catching Waves at Georgina Point Mayne Island BC 
Oil on Canvas 30 x 40 x 1.5

SINCE I was specifically looking for the magic of words and images, I thought this description from the artist was interesting. “There is a brisk northwesterly wind stirring up the Salish Sea in the bright autumn sun. I step carefully down the sandstone trail to the shore below the lighthouse at Georgina Point. Looking out across the Strait of Georgia, it seems that the best thing to do is to catch a few waves. Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada.”

SOMETIMES when I spot a new piece of work from Welch, I have fun playing with words to see what title the image provokes. Inspiration. It’s always there if we are open to it; if we seek it out. I can’t imagine a world without art … can you? But the individuals behind the work are usually equally fascinating. What brought them to the world of art in the first place? How do they sustain their energetic enthusiasm for their work? What do they want to communicate to the world? To you, to me?

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you:
I am here to live out loud.
Émile Zola

Born in the village of Vanderhoof in north-central British Columbia, Terrill’s art training came at an early age and continued more in the European style of mentoring and tutoring. Terrill Welch’s work, in water mixable or walnut oil paints and photographic canvas prints, showcases the beautiful, mysterious and rugged southwest coast of Canada. Though locally appreciated, Terrill Welch is internationally recognized.  Her paintings and photographs are sold to art collectors throughout Canada and the United States as well as in Australia, England, Norway and Switzerland.

AND NOW I’d like to return to Mary Hercher, the photographer I began this blog post with … here again is her wonderful red bench that I featured in SunnyRoomStudio last year. It’s an invitation to stop for a moment to gaze out at the world anew. Look at something with the eyes of an artist … how does this vantage point change your overall perception? Can you describe this dynamic or paint it? How do you feel when looking through an artistic lens instead of through the dull eyes of routine and conformity? A whole new world is born in this way, in this context. SO make the shift! Regardless of what you do each day in your life, try opening your eyes to the beauty of whatever is right in front of you. Study the colors, the texture, the expression, the eyes. This alone, I would wager, could change our world.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
Edgar Degas

  “I have one image of myself that I like, but it is a ‘soft’ image, one full of joy.”
Mary T. Hercher @ Wind Spirit Photography
Rapid City, South Dakota

I have a feeling this is going to become one of my favorite blog posts for 2017. Certainly, it’s one way to express my profound gratitude to those who are such bright lights in the universe. As an author, I could never find the words for an entire book without the incredible work of others around me to provoke and guide and inspire. I wish all of these individuals an abundance of creative energy and joy in the upcoming year, and thank them again for their profound contribution to creating a world that looks beyond the surface of things for the deeper meaning. As Mary is doing above, keep looking up and out and around! Do this as often as possible. Seek the unknown, seek to finally see what is just beyond your awareness and grasp. THAT is where the true magic of life can be found. Best wishes to all for January and beyond. ~ dh

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

See you again in a few weeks!
Thanks so much for stopping by this creative sunny space for kindred spirits.
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NOTICING THE HIGH NOTES

I always start a new blog post with only a whisper of an idea. I could never plan it all out in advance. Nor would I want to. Creativity, for me anyway, demands a certain willingness to allow my subconscious to deliver something unexpected … something I hadn’t even fully considered myself, until  sitting down to put words on the page. Eagerly awaiting fresh insights makes writing its own reward: the unique puzzle that offers endless potential for discovery. Today is no different. Though I began to casually remind myself earlier this week that I would be writing a new post today … I left it at that. No outlines, no brainstorming, no purposeful pondering.

  • So what did I come up with?

Something that seems to fit the month of August — a series of pictures that express summer’s high notes in a way that words might not convey. I’ll let you find the take-away in each, imagining why a certain photo was a high note in its own right. Seemingly small things can be “high notes” when we are truly present for the moment. We are inundated with endless streams of information on a multitude of subjects each day. It’s extremely important to consciously allow more “open space” into our lives. Photos without words of explanation are simply one small way to do this. A breather before we head into autumn …enjoy!

— how often do we miss the “best” in life because we are waiting for the “best” to arrive?

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AND … if you care to leave a comment sharing why you think a certain photo was a “high note” (definition up to you!) … I will send the BEST comment received a complimentary copy of my new memoir (see cover below), THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE.

Have a little fun with this!  (NOTE: You’ll have until September 1st … ) 

If you already have a copy of my memoir, I’m happy to send you a copy for a friend or to donate to a relevant nonprofit. 

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What high notes have come into your life this summer?
Why do they feel like something a bit out of the ordinary?
How deeply did you notice, and appreciate, the high notes?
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
 
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THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER

THERE is something about summer that frees our spirits. Something that insistently beckons us to look at life and nature more closely, more intently. And, indeed, more extensively. The lake we’ve never visited. The trail we’ve never walked. The plant we’ve never grown. The important project we’ve managed not to “see” or acknowledge. The book we’ve never read. The artist we’ve overlooked. The recipe we’ve wanted to try for the longest time. The daring article or poem we suddenly want to write. You have your own examples, I’m sure.

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Feeling freer, less confined and withdrawn, we seem to almost merge with the spirit of summer.

Growing … doing … exploring … experiencing … creating.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But sometimes things happen that dampen our spirits, and we struggle to find our usual enthusiasm for summer’s endearing vibrancy. It can make us feel pretty miserable to want to do the usual things (or new things) without the energy or desire to make it happen.

Who hasn’t been there?

Unless you live a one-dimensional life on a one-dimensional planet … you’ve been there.

We lost our beloved schnauzer, Noah, in June of 2015. My beloved son, Matthew, in June of 2007.

So I’ve been wondering about this fanciful month of June. Why has it delivered such harsh blows amidst the greens and blues and pastels that flow like rain during a month when many parts of the world seem reborn. Promising, comforting, and certainly pleasant. And then I noticed a quote on a good friend’s (thanks, Cynthia!) Facebook page that gave me pause yet again.

  • “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ― L. M. Montgomery
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NOAH … the Zen master
SRS
NOAH                                                                       

If the world was always June … yes, there would  be the magic of nature … but, for me, there would also be poignant and powerful reminders of loss. Days very difficult to peacefully, and fully, remember; days when beating hearts grew still: the silence deafening. But June takes me there anyway, even as I resist, cringe, try to run away.

So do I turn away from the lovely month of June, or embrace it?
What would you do?

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.
The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Maud Hart Lovelace

To say I have mixed feelings about June would be true. The calendar, the season, draw me closer to events that feel “outside of time” … but the days of June also sharpen those painful memories anew, serving them up like a sad story ending one can never quite escape. Matt_FruitFarmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA_Matt_Lake

I guess the only thing I can do is broaden my view, allowing June to merge with my memories of summer, in general. By acknowledging the month of June as intrinsic to summer’s spirit, I can consider it from a slightly different vantage point. Reflecting on this … I am also reminded that summer’s spirit is not entirely blissful. When summer ends, it takes with it warm, carefree days, and announces the arrival of a new season. Cooler weather, a more subdued season, less fresh and invigorating. By framing June this way, it becomes part of a bigger story—one less focused on daily events, specific time frames, and so on.

  •  ” … the final twist descended like a malicious fire. An unyielding weapon and an uncompromising shot shredding time, and all variations of hope, as it penetrated and absorbed the utter fragility of a precious human life in a secluded meadow on a faded summer night. An unbearable image. An anguished landing during the seductive month of June–nature in full bloom–made death even more startling, incongruent. I wanted to hate the sixth month of the year.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

When painful memories surface, try to frame them anew … bring them into a slightly different light, look at them from a perspective that isn’t quite as personal. After all, nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected. Dreaded days on a calendar can be looked at in a broader context … allowing for space around the event, the moment, the feelings we instinctively shy from. So here’s to the breezy days of summer, the tantalizing mix of life and loss the season ultimately delivers. Matt and Noah, for me, you ARE the spirit of summer. ~

How do you feel about June, about summer?
Any complications around this particular landscape of time?
What memories do you shun, or treasure … or simply not understand?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, July 1st.

“Drugs and guns aren’t the real problems; they are only symptoms.
The deeper issue is the human condition, the trauma of life on this planet.”
9780990842361-Front-TheSlienceOfMorning13_RGB_300dpi_6x9“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, Leaving the Hall Light On
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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A WORD ABOUT WRITING

HAVE you ever written a long essay, a poetry collection, a book? I’m assuming nearly everyone reading this has written something of some length. It’s a curious process, isn’t it? Some love it, many don’t. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. To suggest it takes tremendous patience, dedication, skill, and trust is not doing the work justice, is it? Because, in all reality, it demands much more. Writing also requires the willingness to take every daily interruption in stride. Creating art via thought, intuition, and sentences takes enormous focus and concentration–a keen ability to listen for the words, the message–yet, in this world of constant “something,” interruptions are the norm.

The doorbell rings. The cell phone chimes. The dog barks. The cat wants attention. The nagging to-do list thwarts progress. The yard needs water. The shrubs need trimming. The floor needs vacuuming. The wall needs paint. The kitchen blinds need an update. The important phone call must be returned. The book you’re reviewing for a friend must be read. The delivery truck wants a signature for an item you forgot you ordered. The dinner must be purchased, planned, prepared. The new wine must be tried. The lawn must be mowed again; overgrown trees must come down, new ones planted. The article you’ve worked on diligently (the one with an urgent deadline) seeks a final paragraph late into the night when the speed of life slows down ever so briefly. The printer jams, and how long will it take to get it fixed; who can fix it? What about visiting an aging relative, the friend in the hospital, the neighbor moving to assisted living? Maybe you volunteer for a nonprofit; maybe you crave more time “to be” with the universe without any kind of agenda …

YET … a spring sunrise takes your breath away, and you must spend a few minutes gazing at it.
A memory takes you by the throat, holds you to the fire, as you dare to remember, deeply so, someone you’ve loved and lost.

In my case … the son I wrote about in my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING.

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As author Annie Dillard wrote in one of her many books: “It takes years to write a book–between
two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.” — The Writing Life (1989)

During the seven years it took to write and publish my memoir, the interruptions, the distractions and diversions, were plentiful. Even abundant! But a true writer somehow perseveres. Somehow believes so much in the journey, the book’s message, the pain and the joy of writing itself, that giving up isn’t an option. If you set out to climb a mountain, those who are serious about it … climb it. One way or another.

Music helped me a lot. Helped me delve into tangled emotions that weren’t easy to describe. When the book was in the editing phase, for instance, I often listened to a CD called Songbird Sunrise.

I like to get up around 5 a.m. and work when the house is still quiet, and somehow, the simple, sincere sounds of birds (in the spring and summer, you can just open the window, but I was editing and proofreading in the winter) helped me tune in to each sentence anew. When a book has been worked on for many years, it’s easy for even the sharpest eyes to skip over details. So I needed music that allowed me to really see each sentence … in the moment. I had to open an internal space for a task that many dislike, because the creative fuel that takes the process from a tiny seed to a full-grown tree is low by this stage of the process. Authors are exhausted when a book is completed. At least the authors I know. But a serious book project has many stages and phases and getting a first draft written is barely a scratch in the surface.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.
– Henry David Thoreau

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For perspective, I grew these hollyhocks back in 2008; they helped to inspire me to even begin the memoir. I remember writing about them in the book–how somehow, they also had fueled the journey. Beginnings are interesting, aren’t they? If you are a writer, what inspired you to take the first step … often the most critical of all? Sometimes it’s good to look back at those first steps to appreciate the hardships, the joys, of the climb. It’s also good to pause deeply when a project comes to fruition.

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
Ernest Hemingway

Most of the authors I know write because they care. Care deeply for the work, the ideas, the creative journey. For the deep and powerful personal commitment it takes to sustain the work … building invisible bridges from paragraph to paragraph, from chapter to chapter. In this blog post, I want to honor the work of authors. I can’t image a world without “us.” It would be a dark, futile world. One extremely short on inspiration, connection and understanding, and most of all, one with less beauty. For even from the darkest shadows, the deepest sorrows, beauty can be found. And shared.

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A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.
– Joseph Conrad

As I wrote in The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone: “Our minds rush to interpret events as good or bad, positive or negative, as we eagerly watch for the ‘good’ and, more cautiously, for the ‘bad.’ But when darkness descended into my world with absolute force and determination, abstract concepts became fiercely personal, and I was drawn to profound life questions as never before.”

  • Being drawn to profound life questions is utterly important. A tremendous gift … when understood and acted upon over time. So, despite Matthew’s loss, ultimately, there was beauty in my path … a path suggested by the white and pink hollyhocks that stood tall before me while I sat on our deck to study them, to seek solace in their upward flight — their show of color, their subtle optimism.
  • The light of life may not look like we think it should; it may not be the light we think we want or need. Fortunately, as an author, I was willing to explore what I’d been given, was willing to deeply consider the profound mysteries we are born into. Mysteries lodged in silence. And ambiguity. My memoir somehow penetrates that silence, however, as I initially survive its fierce echo after my son’s sudden death, and then when I realize I must, one day, embrace it.
  • Even though I wasn’t remotely prepared for the curious demands of loss, I dared to wonder: who is?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
― Robert Frost

Pay attention to beginnings. Dare to wonder about the most perplexing life mysteries. Care deeply about humanity and your work. Find the stamina to go the distance. Authors are stunning athletes in a world that often misses this reality. Believe in what you want to explore, and discover. Know that being an author, a writer, is one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do. And clearly, the most rewarding. You set out on this rocky path armed with very little, knowing almost nothing. Yet, you are filled with a sense of possibility. Guided by questions, random thoughts, a shaky desire to create something out of nothing. And … you understand courage, you know patience, and you believe in magic. Deep in your soul, and this might be quite surprising to some of you, you even know what it is that you must write before you ever set down the first line in a book. Become one with that place of knowing. It will lead you through the early morning, the late nights, and well beyond those who don’t understand, or value, your mission. And that is a where you must be, and stay, to find your story — the one with the potential to reach the hearts and minds of others. Godspeed. — dh

If you are a writer … what has sustained you?
What has helped you face the blank page, the muddled page, the final page?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, June 3rd.

I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
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HOW … do we better understand the human condition, the quest for inner peace?
HOW … do we tap into the deeper mysteries, embracing challenge and loss as we go?
HOW … do we distance ourselves from a malcontent culture focused on excitement, escape, and excess?
AND … despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … commit to sustained personal growth?
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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