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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His son was named Gabriel, and when esteemed poet Edward Hirsch decided to write about his son’s untimely death, the elegy grew into a book-length poem. Of course, it is called Gabriel.


For me, this was a captivating piece of work. Like an artist painting a portrait with features so very real, Hirsch describes his son in vivid detail, often including snippets of conversation. The words exchanged with Gabriel are telling. I sensed the energy of the continual “trying” that seemed to envelope their relationship; Gabriel’s restless behavior patterns encumbering them like an unwanted third party in their familial relationship. Attempting to  connect with someone in this context can be exhausting. Like trying in vain to see a person’s face through a dense fog. Like imagining personal lifelines that are frayed, or nonexistent. I also sensed the love that existed between father and son. Despite it all, there was enormous caring and concern. I hope you’ll read this book. Offering profound insight into the human condition, Gabriel: A POEM, is much more than a wonderful literary contribution. It is a story of loss that conveys the tragedy of what can’t be fixed or healed for reasons unknown. And many things in life are like that. Human limitations abound. It’s just who we are: all of us. ~ dh

Edward Hirsch has published eight books of poetry, five books of prose. He is also president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. From the book jacket (Knopf, 2014): “His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation.”


Has grief shaped your artistic efforts?
Has loss found its way into your life?
Can poetry help us to better understand the fragility of the human condition?
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
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I’m working on poetry this month. Editing, writing, editing. Until the lines stay put in a way that feels right, and true, and possibly even, poetic. I’ve read about poets who stick with a first draft, period. Good for them. Every now and then a poem arrives like a gift, and only minor tweaking is ever needed. But not on a routine basis. Usually, like fine wine, a poem needs time. And if I’m dedicated, returning to it now and then and not rushing the process, it will eventually reveal itself to me … often in surprising ways.

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

The creative process, when it works, is actually quite enjoyable. Lines of poetry can feel like an invitation to another world: another time or place. But I have to be a good listener to write a poem I truly love. Does that sound strange, or unexpected? If you’re a writer, I’m sure you know that all forms of writing involve listening. But knowing this doesn’t mean I won’t forget; it’s all too easy to get in my own way. To assume where a poem is going. To fall in love with a certain word, or a line, refusing to hit the delete key.

IMG-20130605-01202“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
Robert Frost

Frost is correct. A poem begins in the far reaches of my consciousness, and only when I’m a patient listener does writing become fruitful, focused, and rewarding. Sometimes a new poem begins with a question, one that can’t possibly be answered. Still, I must begin. I must grapple with the question knowing there is no precise resolution. But eventually, I hit upon a single word that seems to point me in the right direction. Somehow I know to follow that word … somewhere.

  • If you write prose or poetry or both, what is your process? Has it changed over the years or not really?

Finding the right title for a poem is also interesting. Sometimes a title seems perfect, but hours later, it goes by the wayside. Perhaps it’s just a little off-center, doesn’t quite hit the mark: illuminating the essence of the poem. Then, sometimes in the middle of the night, a better title surfaces. When I’m lucky, I write it down, so the idea isn’t forgotten by morning.

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.
~Jean Cocteau


Long story short, writing poetry is a bit like waiting for rain. Sometimes a dry spell is prolonged. Luckily, since it’s National Poetry Month, I’ve been inspired to stay with the process — to dig in and tackle poems that still need “something,” to write new ones, striving to get at the core of the poem in ways that are unique and compelling. Listening for nuance, for a deeper truth. It’s nearly always there. And if I’m persistent, something new is born. My reward? Creative joy, a feeling of grace and lightness, a sense of completion.

“Summer night–
even the stars
are whispering to each other.”
Kobayashi Issa

  • I also write prose, but love dedicating time to poetry; it pulls something different from me — insisting on many things. Wouldn’t the world benefit greatly from more poetry, more readers and students of poetry? Doesn’t a good poem leave you in awe, in a state of wonder?

  Don’t use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.
Jack Kerouac

Thanks so much for dropping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. But now, it’s back to work. Despite inevitable moments of poetic frustration, the stars seem aligned just so this month, and I’m deeply grateful for those lines that take me (and hopefully, others) to a certain time and place. One I can’t reach any other way. Poetry helps us feel our way through life, doesn’t it? Taking us beyond the rough edges into a bright, sacred space that is momentarily captured, then released. Thanks again, see you next Friday, April 24th. ~ dh

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Stay Alert

  • Books on My Shelf 2014

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio. This week I picked a fun, amazingly worthwhile book from my shelf to share with you.  I’ll also be sharing a few thoughts on creativity from author Laura Munson.  Recently, we talked about a favorite book from her shelf, one she points to during her Haven Writing Retreats.

But first of all, I want to tell you about Hugh MacLeod’s timeless book: Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.  Published in 2009 (Penguin), Hugh’s book captures the importance of being original and retaining your creative authority.  From his website: Once a struggling young copywriter living in a YMCA, Hugh began to doodle on the back of business cards while sitting at a bar — thus, launching a popular blog and a reputation for pithy insight and humor in words and pictures.

  • If you try to make something just to fit your uninformed view of some hypothetical market, you will fail.  If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed.

I found this advice in a chapter called: Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.  It’s chapter seven, and it’s three pages long.  There are 40 such chapters.  Brief, yet, exacting.  You have the feeling MacLeod is hitting the target with his message.  Read on …

Chapter 23: Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

Chapter 27: Write from the heart.  “There is no silver bullet.  There is only the love God gave you.”

Chapter 36: Savor obscurity while it lasts.

Chapter 40: None of this is rocket science.

  • It’s the last chapter, and Hugh writes: “If I had to condense this entire book into a line or two, it would read something like, Work hard. Keep at it. Live simply and quietly. Remain humble. Stay positive. Create your own luck. Be nice. Be polite.”

In other words, he’s telling us to listen to our inner wisdom. Ignore crowd mentality.  It’s old news.  Has been done before — many, many times.  Be attentive to your inner world.  What is seeking expression in unique ways?  Even if your ideas are sketchy, or happen to show up as a doodle on the back of a business card, forge ahead.  Pay attention.  Listen.  Don’t think or immediately evaluate; don’t analyze the idea away.  Let it simmer and lead you into new terrain.

photo zen“When I retreat into the haven of my writing, mind meets craft meets heart language.”
~ Laura Munson (author, teacher, speaker, creative spirit, visionary)

Laura published a memoir a few years ago that attracted millions of readers: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness.  In many ways, she’d turned to personal creativity to successfully navigate a significant personal crisis, and then wrote about the journey (that became a life-changing experience) in a soulful way.  Her book resonated with readers who had unknowingly been looking for just such a book.

Discovering she wasn’t alone in the experience of coping with relationship challenges, Laura’s story elicited the support of women and men who read the book for its wisdom, its universal message.  Its courage.

Now, though hard at work on a novel, Laura also hosts writing retreats in Montana.  Haven Writing Retreats.  There are  times when we yearn to focus deeply, and exclusively, on our creativity; when we want to learn something from those who carved a path in the wilderness despite a plethora of killer obstacles.

  • I wondered what was on her book shelf that she might share with us here in SunnyRoomStudio.

Laura eagerly mentioned a book of poetry that touches on nature, life, and friendship.  A book called Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

The book contains some 300 poems in a lengthy correspondence between the two men, but they let the work speak for itself — they don’t tell us who wrote the individual poems.  What a lovely and lasting collaboration.           

I love this book. It’s an exchange between two of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison, and Ted Kooser. It is stunningly honed writing, and I use it at my Haven Writing Retreats as an example of the flickering energy of words. We think we need to use big words and a lot of them to be smart writers. It’s quite the opposite. Read Braided Creek.  Open it the way some do the Bible. You will be astounded how the poems feel their way into your deep knowing.” ~LM

Braided Creek (Cooper Canyon Press, 2003) does sound intriguing.  I was glad to learn about it, and happy to share it here in this sunny space for kindred spirits.  The cover is beautiful.  Not that you can always tell a book by its cover.  But in this case, I have a feeling the cover and the contents merge in a credible kind of way.

Each time I go outside the world
is different. This has happened
all my life.

Who can’t relate to  that sentiment?  Good poetry seems to have the ability to bring us closer to ourselves by illuminating what we rarely articulate.  Either we don’t notice, or we can’t find the precise words to convey a feeling that might be tucked in the shadows or lurking under layers of routine and rushing.  Good ideas–even life-changing insights–are like that, too.  They rarely arrive with sirens blaring or bells ringing.  Stay alert to your inner world.  Stay alert.  ~ dh

zenstonesNo one can tell you if what you’re doing is good, meaningful, or worthwhile.
The more compelling the path, the more lonely it is.
~ Hugh MacLeod

 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 Friday, January 24th. 

I hope you are also digging into your books.  Dusting off a few.
Open to any page, read a passage or a chapter you loved but have forgotten.
Maybe one you skipped over seems especially relevant now.

 A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

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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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