Each of us, to different degrees, are living with uncertainty. In our writing it's the uncertainty, with a promise of arrival into some certainty, that keeps the reader reading. In our day-to-day lives we tend to resist or panic when uncertainty arrives at our door.
We can approach our life as if it is a very good read. We can face our uncertainty. One way to do this is to live with intention. Write with intention. Not goals mind you (which we tend to use to hit ourselves over the head with, like if I had the goal to write 10 pages or lose 10 pounds). And definitely not with flowery affirmations (which research has shown only works if we already have a solid self-esteem.) Intentions give us direction while at the same time living creatively with uncertainty.
We need to have a sense of where we are going -- what direction we are facing. (Where are we taking ourselves or our readers?) A hope for some future arrival. So the paradoxical nature of uncertainty means living intentionally within these times of uncertainty.
Intentions help us to live each moment open to what we want in this scene, or what we want to experience or explore in this day. In our writing we face uncertainty with an understanding of our intentions (what our theme is); in our life we too, have an understanding of our present themes.
Live with uncertainty by naming and living your themes, your intentions.
Instead of having the goal to "unclutter my life," (as I face my own uncertainties), I hold the intention of "I live with what brings me joy." Does this book, shirt, utensil bring me joy? No? Out it goes. This intention also helps create room for what's next. A crowded house or life can hold us back. Another intention and theme for me is: I bring love to this. I believe love cures all wounds. (And a good walk outside). So instead of having the goal or affirmation to "be happy," I intend to bring love to this. With these themes I do have a sense of where I am going and how to get there -- a more spacious home and life, and one abundant in love.
Intentions are simple thematic statements, with a verb (an action word) after the I statement: I give: I live: I encourage; I discover: I bring... I live an abundant writer's life. Then we use this to direct our stories on and off the page. (For more on living with intention see my book: The Zero Point Agreement).
In your writing let yourself meet up with all the uncertainty that arises in the writing itself and let this uncertainty bring (good) tension to the page. You are promising the reader an arrival at some point of certainty, where most, if not all the questions will be answered and promises kept. Just so in life -- you will arrive at some beautiful place having stayed true to your intentions in the face of uncertainty.
FREE VIRTUAL WRITING RETREAT DAY: June 5th. Contact me to sign up. Room for 10. Will include writing prompts, meet up for lunch and a closing sharing circle.
As a writing sherpa my mentoring is focused on getting you to your summit (and to all the base camps along the way). This relationship is just as much a psychological and spiritual relationship as it is an editorial or instructional one. I mentor you as a writer so you can write. So you will make that climb and finish that book or blog series, or collection of stories and poems.
Who and how we are as a writer comes to the page and translates into something meaningful for the reader.
There are many internal obstacles along the way. I have encountered many myself. So, instead of telling you what shoes you need to make your climb, or what to pack in your backpack, I help you find those questions and answers within yourself. I will of course give you my ideas and show you some of the best paths to take. But ultimately you will make your own. The paths too depend on if you want the athletic route or the scenic? And how in shape are you for this particular climb? (What might you need to do, to prepare for this climb?)
If you have not finished you manuscript or gotten your ideas down fully onto the page, that is where we start. Your first summit is finishing your novel; writing those blogs; finishing that collection of poems or stories. I sherpa-mentor you there --. A lot will be learned along the way. And as you write, your writing will improve.
It takes courage to finish. Where there is courage there is a vulnerability -- emotions of fear, doubt, incompetency and uncertainty. We will confront these together and let them enrich the writing experience and your written word. Everything you experience on your climb is great material for the writing -- . When we write we are visiting or revisiting places in our selves or in our past that may bring up stuff -- again, more material for the page. It takes a strength through vulnerability to be a writer.
Vulnerability is a necessity to every conversation on and off the page.
My hope for you, and myself, is that we have the courage to finish what we started on the page because these stories and poems need to feed the hunger in this world.
Once you have made it to the top of your particular summit, you may want me as your Writing Sherpa-Coach, where we go deeper into the meaning and message of your writing and how you want to deliver your stories.
“And if you decide not to read anymore, hey, no problem, because you're not the one I was waiting for anyway. But if you decide to read on, then guess what? You're my kind of time being and together we'll make magic!” ― Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
I am not sure how anyone can get through a life without poetry. My first poet was Carl Sandburg. I still have his Wind Song book from my teens. I have to open the pages now ever-so-gently or they will fall out like wings to the floor.
My People by Carl Sandburg
My people are gray,
pigeon gray, dawn grey, storm grey.
I call them beautiful,
and I wonder where they are going.
Poetry should be part of every project. Or, better yet, we should hire a poet to help with our comings and goings in life. Molly Chanson and I are offering retreats and programs on the transformation of our pain stories into our life-giving stories of resilience and initiation (The Initiation). We have a poet, Kimberly Lempart, a poet and writer extraordinaire who is our project's poet. Here is a message from her and three of her poems. (She is for hire!)
I have always loved writing poetry. I used to write poems in my teens and early twenties until alcohol took over my life. I couldn’t write anything then. After I got sober I began writing again. First short stories then a memoir. Poetry came last only because I didn’t know if my poems touched other people like they touched me.
My writing Sherpa, Julie Tallard Johnson, turned me on to David Whyte, John O’Donohue and a collection of poems by sacred voices from the East and West called Love Poems from God. These books and my writer’s circle opened me up and ignited that old fire in me. I began to write poems regularly and with such passion. I heard friend’s dreams or experiences and turned them into poems. Poetry is so profound and exciting.
The Way Out
Deep inside of me
Somewhere in a quiet, fragile part of my heart
There is a spotted orchid blossom
Slowly opening against all odds
It fell from the stem in a moment of awakening
Inside of this tender blossom
There is a writer like a tiny, precious bird
Peering out and beginning to notice the world
And herself with an all new perspective
Desperately trying to find her way, her voice, her rhythm
Her mojo is gaining momentum, swirling, swiftly forward
The writer sees herself inside of a sad, scared girl in jail
Fresh maroon scars all across her forearms like letters
In another language, a secret message for the cutters
Capped off with a cigarette burn on her wrist
Like an exclamation point at the end of her jail sentence
I see her because I am her and she knows it
It fills me with hope and makes all of it
Every second of the anguished and tormented life
The hate, rage, loneliness, unpaid bills, devastated mother, manipulation, lies,
Heartbroken girlfriend walking on eggshells, unending thirst, constant stench,
Lost jobs, unanswered phone calls, frightened dogs, bruises, ambulance rides,
Handcuffs, courtrooms, married men and woman, hopelessness,
Worthlessness and the huge empty hole inside every single fucking one of us bearable
And worth it, if I can reach this girl and show her the way out
There are no hugs in March or April
There is no touching at all, not even the innocent brush of a passing finger
Or the feel of an infected hand in my pocket as you put my matches away
I can feel your embrace
Melting heart pose as we stand together
How we fit together so perfectly, your arms around my back
My arms squeezing you tight, as our chests press against each other
The thin material of my tee shirt inadequate armor
For the way our hearts feed on each other
The way they recognize themselves
Your crooked beat so quick the friction lights a fire
Our hearts ignite and liquify in our tattered bodies
The fire burns within us, cauterizing our wounds
Our melting hearts pour out and over, soon to drown us
You cup your hands and feed yourself
Our eyes connected in that moment and through the centuries
We are saving ourselves as we quench a thirst
Of a lifetime
She glides in the sea of the night sky close to the Earth, full, wet, glistening
Perched over my shoulder she whispers to my inner essence
She needs me to open the nest of my body to prepare for flight
The moon pressures me to cry, to embrace the emptiness
Like the waves of the ocean coming home
She releases me back into the Earth
The heavy presence of dark ancestors surround me, frighten me
I feel the divine echo of my shadow coming back to me
The Earth’s breath pulsates calmly under my feet
The sacred circle is formed as primal energy illuminates my soul
My heart bursts open, every cell delighted in the dance
The boundlessness of all worlds, times and spaces is found
There is honor in the spaces, in the breath that hosts my wholeness
An absolute knowing of the eternal integrity, as I become the healer
I am the observer as the moon becomes my way
She carries my laughter through the channel
Until I become the channel
there is room, yes.
stop living in your smallest self.
that's not who you are, always tight, pushing against
the limits of your poor little shell.
it takes no effort to see, really see, from here.
and you - salt and spark,
you step easily into greater heights
when you remember
there is room.
– Rebecca Cecchini, Wisconsin poet and project poet for The Red Thread book (every project should have a poet)
“You know how robins run about eight inches, then stop, cock their heads, and look and listen? If nourishment is there, they find it. My soul offers continual guidance and sustenance, if only I will stop and listen, often. Parker J. Palmer.
Try This: 15 Golden Minutes
We can start small. In fact it is best to start small. Many writing clients worry about not having any time to be creative, to write, to play their instrument, let alone be quiet and listen to themselves. Yet they are aware of this need to tend to self, to engage in things that truly feed them, that replenish themselves. Here is what I do and what I recommend any one who has lost this in their life. Identify 15 golden minutes where you will rest and listen, where you will write on your novel, or attend to that one creative, nurturing act that is for you. Fifteen golden minutes to journal. Fifteen golden minutes to be outside in the elements. 15 golden minutes to play on your instrument. Don’t commit to any more time than this – but do commit to this. Identify the time during the day you will give yourself these 15 golden minutes, whether it be something you commit to every morning or is part of your monthly calendar. You can though, choose a time that could segue into 30 minutes or more. When you pick your 15 golden minutes see if you can choose a time that could become more golden time for such nourishment.
And try this: Breathing and No Effort
“I get so angry every time you say that to us!” a client said to me during a session. She was also in my Red Thread circle at the time, where I offered this basic suggestion: to breathe and no effort. She was actually working on not feeling so responsible to everyone and everything. She was overwhelmed and tired.
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“Breathe into no effort, really pisses me off.”
“It’s breathe and no effort”, I said.
We both got a good laugh from that! For the whole intention of breathe and no effort is to let go of pushing and shoving our way through our life and instead, let go, breathe, let your natural way of being emerge. This allows for a gap in our doing and thinking, for small gaps of solitude through breath and effortlessness. Like the Robin, just breathing and noticing. This state of “just being” gives us a way to accomplish all we want. Every lesson we want to learn, every line we want to write, every idea we are studying, every spiritual practice and encounter can be approached with just breathe! and no effort (no force), just presence and engagement.
Breathe, let go. . . listen.
Find that worm.
In our real stories and conversations we meet up with another and create a third world together-- a third place in which we both arrive. A place we have both been invited to. I like the idea that we aren't here to reach enlightenment or perfect ourselves; we are here to create worlds, together.
None of us arrived fully formed into this world. None of us arrived fully formed as a writer. Our lives are a path of exploration and discovery. We have to be careful not to let religion, other's ideas, institutions or dogma stop us from our explorations. We have to be willing to ask the questions that open our lives up. Too many of us become trapped in our competent lives -- . We may be doing okay but we have given up that curiosity that can rattle us to our core. Or we ignore that inner rattling.
Being curious is an invitation to discover ourselves newly, everyday.
During this time of social isolation and dealing with some new realities we can pay attention to what's calling us, what could break us open now to what's next, to what's possible? To acknowledge that we are in a new place in our lives -- encourages us to be newly curious about what wants our attention. Where are we and where do we want to go from here? Who are we now? In a written story -- how can you approach the narrative newly?
What exactly is your life's journey (now) and, where are you on this journey of yours? What do you have to let go of in order to fully arrive here? How can we approach our words, our poems, our conversations not fully formed?
Curiosity is a superpower. Our desire to understand more or consider how this scene or verse can unfold has us creating new worlds on and off the page.
Seeing something (or someone) newly is a superpower. Being curious and courageous invites us to step into an old place, in a new way. As writers I encourage us to let our writing prompts and writing take us where they will -- don't force anything and don't rewrite the same page over and over. (Feeling too competent can often have us live the same day over and over without curiosity or disruption). Paradoxically, seeking perfection can have us rewriting and reliving the same line over and over again as well. We can hold the questions: Where have I arrived in my writing? Where is my writing wanting to take me? . . . How can I approach my words and world newly? . . .
This social distancing and pandemic is changing us. We are finding different ways to be in conversation with ourselves and the world around us. We are opening up to new words and worlds. If we don't let this change us, we will find ourselves lost in our new arrivals. We must let go of the old story in order to write and live the new ones. We might try to force the old into the new because we are too competent in our lives and find no need to be newly formed.
How can we invite and allow for a new world? (I ask myself this -- which of course brings more uncertainty but also opens me up to a bigger curiosity). What is possible here? What is it I truly want?
We can ask ourselves the question of what is the invitation here? Who and what are we inviting in? In our writing, what are we invited to, as we write? What is the invitation to your future readers? What third world will we create as we meet up (on and off the page)?
I invite you to explore these questions in your own way. To meet this place of social distancing and uncertainty half-way with that superpower of curiosity and "newly seeing."
JOIN ME FOR my next FREE Writing Retreat Day in the collective privacy of your home and mine. Friday May 8th from 10:00 am till 4:00 pm. We will meet up to write, gather and meet for a ZOOM lunch, write some more and then gather together for a sharing circle at 3:00. Limited to 10. I do have a theme! And I will send out writing prompts, but you can just use the day to write on your projects. The theme is: Vulnerability and Courage through Writing.
There's a Buddhist story that goes something like this: A woman came to the Buddha concerned about the mistakes she was making in her life. She wanted to have guidance on which way to go. She spoke about stumbling and faltering.... The Buddha's suggestion was this:
"When stumbling, stumble in the right direction."
In your own unique stumblings' I trust that you know what your right direction is -- and, hopefully how to let yourself stumble.
I am stumbling through this time of confinement and uncertainty. And I'm doing my best to stumble forward.
In our writing and life, and in our written stories, knowing our horizons can help keep us focus and move our life and stories forward. We can have our stumblings' be toward our horizons, both the internal and external ones. We can be conscious of our writing horizons, and the horizons within our stories and characters.
And, how do we walk, write and live during such times of collective trauma and uncertainty, or live in a traumatized body?
First, we must hold a conversation and knowing of our own horizons.
We need let go of the old stories of ourselves and the world, and live in appreciation of our horizons. We are overwhelmed by our circumstances right now. So what are you giving yourself to move toward? To walk toward? In what way are you giving your readers a place to walk toward?
This time of confinement is good inner-horizon time. A time to reflect, consider who we are, what we want, or, to just be in the quiet. Stumble inward. . . Listen. Notice. Wonder. Locate that inner horizon.
We can also hold a conversation between our inner horizons and our outer horizons. We can then create out of this conversation.
What waits at these horizons? - We keep moving (stumbling) toward these inner and outer horizons to discover this. What waits for us there?
Of course there won't be a final meeting place.... a completion. The horizon is always "out there," to give us a place to move toward. In our writings and stories we may complete a book or story but that is not the end really, just an arrival at one place, a place that should create another horizon for us (and our readers).
It takes courage to keep walking, to keep waking. It takes courage to keep walking toward that place we never arrive at --. While at the same time being here, being where we have arrived. Remarkable really. And this holding this place of here and there is full of uncertainty, possibility and unknowns. Rich with meaning.
And to get through a difficult present-time experience we need our horizons. Inner and outer.
So, as we stumble through this challenge collectively, and each on our own, may our stumbling be toward that something that calls to us from within and without.
I can’t find anything clever
Or beautiful to write tonight
the moon is gone
Who does that?
Who takes a moon?
So much comes up for us as writers. Concerns and vulnerabilities around our subject and themes. We ask ourselves: Who am I to share this? Who cares? Is my writing or message good enough? I feel so vulnerable and even afraid to share my story, so why share it? Will any of this make a difference?
All these concerns and vulnerabilities, I want to reassure you, go with the writer’s life. You have probably seen The Power of Vulnerability by Renee Browne. This is worth another viewing.
I would pursue your inner nudge to write and to share your story. I am working on a book for writers. The name of which reveals a universal experience we writers (at all stages of our writing) have: So What and Who Cares? The thing is, those of us who have a personal and vulnerable story and who have likely been shut down or shut up, have to dig inside for that courage, that calling, to share our stories. Sharing our stories is important and valuable. (I will keep saying this. Truth is worth a repeat).
The other truth is: IT’S DOABLE. I can truly say if I can write a book (now 11), and get them published, anyone can. This is where the trust comes in: trusting your calling, trusting yourself and trusting others (me, future readers, the world). And, I am certain your writing is far, far more beautiful and well-written then you may let yourself know. I start all my writing with stream-line of consciousness — this is great. I just get the idea and words on the page, no concern of how well the writing is. This is a perfect place to start. Then we get to go back and re-write and explore all the ways we can make what is meaningful to us, meaningful to our readers.
For the past two weeks I have been offering a free virtual writing circle (for 40 writers). At least 20 show up every day. In my welcome email each morning I give writing prompts for on and off the page. Here are mine for today (enjoy):
Writing Prompt: Using a stream-line of consciousness, write about what you don’t remember. Repeat this line: “I don’t remember,” without lifting your pen off the page and without stopping to think. Even if you have to repeat several times the one line, I don’t remember, do so... keep the pen moving. Something will come, something will show up on the page . . .(You can pick a subject or person that’s relevant to a writing project).
Off the page prompts: Today, spend some time on your deck, porch or in your yard, with your field notebook. Take notes of the sounds you hear. Make a list of every sound you hear. Then later today, bring the two pieces together — What you don’t remember and the sounds you heard. Write a poem.
Tonight watch https://vimeo.com/watch. Fantastic Fungi (if you haven’t already).
"We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion." – Hildegard von Bingen
Buy your Writing Sherpa a Cuppa of Java: HERE. But no worries if you can’t! That’s how this works — I can offer free retreats and virtual writing circles and consultations because those who can buy me a cup of java, do. It all works so beautifully. Thank you. And, keep writing.
How are you doing?
One way I navigate this time of confinement is to be on-line with others as much as possible each day. My virtual writing circle meets up every week day from 11:00 till 1:00 PM and there are 40 of us writers who are "in" each day. It's lovely to see the email response expand and get that sense of us being together, writing. I also do ZOOM visits and consultations, as well as ZOOM counseling. I just got a call from a friend in Florida who I haven't heard from in decades. My daughter and I have decorated the sidewalk with messages and will do so again after the rain. I am sending out cards, texts, and my version of smoke signals.
Being confined doesn't have to mean isolated.
I offer writing prompts along with each virtual writing circle meet up -- if you need a writing prompt, send me an email request and I will send one out to you. And if you want to join in with the virtual writing circle for next week, let me know.
There are ways to connect.
Please reach out.
You can take The Initiated Writer™, my on-line course. I'm signing up for one David Whyte is offering, and I'm seriously considering Neil Gaiman's Master Class on Fiction Writing. Of course there are many, many wonderful writing classes through the UW, Madison Continuing Studies (I teach a Creative Nonfiction Class).
Here's another good read and resource: Writing Through Wordlessness in a Time of Isolation by Tishani Doshi on Seclusion and Life Along the Coast.
We are in this together.
I am here.
SOMETIMES. by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,breathing
like the ones
in the old stories,who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,you come to a place
whose only taskis to trouble you
but frightening requests,conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
andto stop what you
while you do it,questions
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,questions
that have no right
to go away.
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Your support helps keep this Sherpa writing and helping others.
“Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.” – Lynn Ungar
When someone I know had lost a loved one or a dear pet, I felt uncomfortable and uncertain with what to say. But when my brother died a couple months ago, I found the simple “sorry for your loss,” profoundly comforting.
I find this basic truth helpful as we navigate this critical time: Keep it simple. We are connected, and we can help each other in simple but profound ways.
PANDEMIC by Lynn Ungar.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath--
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
I hesitated sending out this blog, again confronted with the internal resistance of what to say. Does my share and reach-out really matter?
That’s it for each of us really. Even if only one of you receive this message as helpful, you are worth my time. Reaching out, letting others know you are with them in heart, that’s important. It matters.
Sorry for your loss.
How can I help?
I am here.
Times such as these can bring forth the best within us: our generosity, our humanity and our knowing that we are in this together. We can choose to learn and evolve from such frightening encounters with crisis, or not.
What I understand about this situation is that it’s not whether we get through it but how. And that this health crisis is likely to happen again, in some form or another. There will be losses. But let not the losses be our compassion or connection to one another.
I invite you to consider what you can do, to go to that uncomfortable but resilient place of reaching out to neighbors, strangers, and loved ones. I invite you to bring forth the best in yourself and others through simple acts of generosity, connection and service.
On my to do list?: Purchase a book from my local bookstore. Write uplifting messages on my sidewalk with chalk. Send out this blog. Share poems. Set up a virtual writing circle. (Email me if you want to be part of it.) Take a virtual yoga class. Write letters to friends and family. Write on my book. Check to see how I may help in my community. Meditate a bit more. Make phone calls. Offer my on-line classes for free to people who can’t afford them. Check up on the elderly in my life who are confined. Deliver a care package from Amazon to a few people. Contemplate how I might be of help to someone today. Walk my dogs. Get caught up on stuff. Smile at everyone, from a distance. Write some more.
I am here.
How can I help?
“Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)”. – Lynn Ungar (Check out and purchase her lovely poetry book!)
My on-line classes: Be The Cause of Your Life
The Initiated Writer
I am available for phone or ZOOM sessions during this time of confinement. Email to schedule. Julie@julietallardjohnson.com Fee is based on your ability to pay.
Email me and let me know how you are doing! Julie@julietallardjohnson.com
“While memories may not give us the power to change reality, it can at least raise a question in our hearts when a lie comes our way.” Yan Lianke
Yan Lianke, in a letter to his students: “I hope that each of you, and all of us who’ve experienced the catastrophic COVID-19 will become people who remember.” Here is is full article (worth the read): lithub.com/yan-lianke-what-happens-after-coronavirus: What Happens After Coronavirus? On Community Memory and Repeating Our Own Mistakes.
As writers, may we help raise those question in future hearts "when a lie comes our way."
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material. Read all of the All Write Wednesdays posts.
Zero Point Blog
The Zero Point blog shares my teachings about living your life from the inside out and becoming the cause rather than the effect of your life. Read all of the Zero Point posts.
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Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dogs through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Perennial Yoga in Fitchburg and waits for spring 11 months of the year. She is author of The Zero Point Agreement & ten other books. She also writes for the local Mount Horeb paper and in her free time listens in on others' conversations at Sjolinds.