We do hold the compasses to navigate a full, rich and meaningful life. But how do we know and feel this compass of our life? How can we know and feel how close we are to living the life that we want?
Writing is one way to feel that compass in our hands and to be guided by our wants and imaginations.
Our imaginations are essential, and must at all times be protected and nurtured. Protected from those who may want to control you (such as in the use of religious dogma); and, nurtured through our musings and explorations. Our imaginations are nurtured and protected further by our holding a sacred space for our writing (in safe circles, in a writing space, with time set aside, or, in sharing our writing with others).
Our writing as a compass opens us up to listen and notice the past and present direction of our life. Where on the map of your life are you? Write about that. What are you writing about or drawn to writing about? Notice that. Write more about that. You are holding a conversation with something of value when you choose a subject and theme to write about. I find I have similar themes show up in my life and writing. The theme of belonging is in all my musings. Even in my unfinished novel this theme of belonging to ourselves, knowing who we are, threads this story together.
What are your sacred threads of navigation? What subjects and themes are threaded through your life? Write about that.
The beauty of writing is that when we share our writing, our words often become compasses for others.
Take time to explore the compass you have in your hand, where it's pointing to and where you want to go.
Join Molly and I for an IN PERSON yoga and writing retreat this August. More information HERE.
Join other writers and authors for this year's WRITE BY THE LIGHT: More information HERE.
"Curiosity is the fundamental experience of attention." santikaro bhikku
When as writers we maintain a curiosity about our subject and themes, we will discover that our pages fill with our stories. David Whyte recommends that we continue to visit the place of a poem. For example, if we keep visiting that tree, or time of day, or person, we find that the poem begins to speak to us through this encounter. When we stay in the conversation with a subject and theme, stay present and curious, we will receive a plethora of words, worlds, ideas and story.
This is true of life.
I find in my 3rd month of yoga teacher training that my body aches more and that I often find myself in a yoga class as the oldest, stiffest Yogi. So what am I doing there? Instead of blaming the teacher for doing too difficult of a pose, or comparing myself to other students, I get curious about my own body and experience. I give my attention to my experience and I take 100% responsibility for my experience. This is living life from our side; this is The Zero Point Agreement. The fundamental, root power we have as human beings is taking a 100% responsibility for our experience. In novels, you will notice that the villain blames others or circumstances for their plight. (Or much of the protagonist's character arch is discovering this truth of ownership). Not taking responsibility in not living life from our side is the sickness in the world, the breaking point of our humanity, where we blame others, god, or our circumstances for our experience.
When we remain curious and therefore attentive, we find that there is so much in our situation to tend to and to discover.
Write about a time you were disappointed.
Did you write about how circumstances or others disappointed you? Or did you find a way to own this disappointment, therefore turning it into a truly transformative experience? All our creative juice, all our ability to make real change, and to engage in the world in an authentic and vulnerable way comes with taking responsibility for our experiences. Comes from our ability to live life from our side.
Write about a time you held someone else accountable for your state of mind or experience. (Disappointment, apathy, confusion). Then, rewrite this pivotal moment and take responsibility for your experience. Be curious and notice the difference. She made me unhappy; I was unhappy. He was confusing; I was confused. The first one I cannot do anything about really. The second, I can do everything about. Even when the other is disappointing, we can only take care of our side of the dynamic. This may mean asking for clarity, or, exploring our emotions and assumptions. You can explore this root truth with your antagonist and protagonist. One has the power to change their experience, the other doesn't. Write those scenes.
Our root truth is that living life from our side, taking this responsibility and staying in the conversation with ourselves and our writing gives us the ability and imagination to take the path that is right for us; the path that is ours to claim.
Join other writers and (ageless) yogis for an in-person retreat this August at Perennial Yoga in Fitchburg.
The Sacred Thread Retreat: Yoga & Writing Retreat for Transformation A physical and contemplative journey toward an inner and outer Self that is here for you to claim. An invitation to be with your imagination and your physical experience. Facilitated by myself (the Writing Sherpa) and Molly Chanson (the Yogi) August 19th through the 22nd. More information HERE.
My love of spaces and what is in them has been a lifelong interest. As a child, inspired by a book I read or a show on television, I rearranged my bedroom to create the same environment. I came by this naturally. My parents frequently moved furniture and changed up rooms. By reordering a space, I discovered new parts of me woke up. Attempting to figure out how spaces impacted us, I pursued degrees in sociology and interior design. Eventually this led to a master’s degree in environmental behavior and a consulting business that interpreted the language of a space. How a space affected my behavior was always the deeper and consistent question.
When I read May Sarton’s, Plant Dreaming Deep, I found a woman who spoke of a space, her farmhouse, as I spoke of our home, Simplicity. Each chapter of her book offered gems into my understanding of the unique relationship of house and resident, something I also felt. I wondered if I could write about our home in this way. For years I sat with this question. For years I did nothing. The question persisted.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic, she says, “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you – but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator.” She tells of her great book idea that she kept postponing to write until one day, a writing colleague wrote a similar book. Her take away was to follow the inspiration given you or it will find another person to fulfill it. This awareness was the energetic push to write the book I held in my heart and soul. Fed up with saying ‘someday I will write this book,’ and knowing I would live with regret if I did not, I moved into action.
I promised myself three years to write Simplicity’s story, concluding with my seventieth birthday. What a grand birthday gift this would be to myself! Knowing I needed accountability and increased writing skills to make this book happen, I joined writing groups, took classes, and was coached and mentored by writer, Julie Tallard Johnson. During one of our writing circles, we explored the idea of blogs. Blogging provided the perfect writing habit and invited a manageable and enjoyable way for the stories to be written. At this stage there was no intention to order the stories or weave them together. Each story stood as a single work.
To get away from the distractions and procrastinations that occurred at home, I frequently stayed at my daughter’s apartment about an hour away, found coffee shops and libraries where I could write, and booked an overnight or two at a Bed and Breakfast. One year into this blog project, we sold Simplicity. The book felt finished as well, except it wasn’t. I had managed to write a very third person account about a house. Julie and my writing partners wanted more. They wanted me to share my personal struggle, my intimate relationship with this house, which I had deliberately kept from revealing.
It took another year to write the personal vulnerabilities, the parts of me that were crucial to understanding the impact this house had on my life. As a faithful writer of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, I looked back through my writings and began to integrate those feelings into the stories.
From day one I had a vision of how I wanted this book to be experienced by the reader. An admirer of the few succinct words that capture it all, I have collected quotations for years. They have been a source of comfort, wisdom, and insight throughout my life. An appropriate quotation was to introduce each chapter.
As a reader, I would want to ‘see’ the stories. A glimpse into Simplicity through a black and white sketch offered a way to both see and imagine her spaces. The sketches were created from photographs taken by husband, Don, and me, as well as paintings I painted of Simplicity while we lived in her.
An intimate story required an intimate size. This resulted in a 5 x 8 book that was comfortable to hold in the hands. Aware of my own reading habits, preferring to start a chapter on the right side of a book, the sketch and quotation were placed on the left side with the chapter beginning on the right.
Shanti Arts Publishing and publisher, Christine Cote, made the magic happen. She listened carefully and honored my vision of this book, asked great questions, and made insightful suggestions like ‘Do you think it might assist your readers to have blueprints of Simplicity?’ When the proof was sent my way, I looked with awe. Before me was my vision and more, beautifully cared for and conceived.
This book will not likely land on the New York Times Best Seller list, but it is the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself and honored. Through its stories, the book invites readers to see their own homes and spaces with new eyes, to wake up to see the ordinary and everyday place they call home in extraordinary ways.
More about A House Named Simplicity: Stories of Finding Home and ordering links can be found at www.susaneatonmendenhall.com
TWO AUTHORS ONE ROOF
Don Mendenhall and Susan Eaton Mendenhall
Don, author of Civility joins Susan for a talk through the DeForest Area Public Library
THURSDAY, APRIL 29th, 6:00 PM via ZOOM
Join us for a glimpse. into the writing lives of two local artists.
Susan, a watercolor artist, recently published A House Named Simplicity: Stories of Finding Home. Her husband, Don, is a fine art photographer and author of Civility: Belonging with Dignity.
In her book, Susan has written a collection of stories about a house that supported their quest to find home, both in a place and within themselves.
Don’s book explores the practical expression of civility through a series of personal stories that serve as outstanding real-life models for civil behavior in the face of conflict. He encourages us to take a closer look at our lives and offers useful ideas about how to live more respectful and trusting lives.
If you have a disability and require accommodation in order to fully participate, please contact library staff.
203 Library Street DeForest, WI ● (608) 846–5482 ● www.deforestlibrary.org
The road seen, then not seen, the hillside hiding
then revealing the way you should take, the road
dropping away from you as if leaving you to walk
on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall, and the way
forward always in the end the way that you followed,
the way that carried you into your future, that brought
you to this place, no matter that it sometimes took
your promise from you, no matter that it had to break
your heart along the way
excerpt from PILGRIM and DAVID WHYTE: ESSENTIALS
Presently many of us are having a collective experience of feeling STUCK. Certainly there are many, many paths normally taken that are not available to us during COVID restrictions. Over the years too, as counselor and Writing Sherpa, many have come to me with the complaint that they felt stuck.
But what is this experience of feeling stuck? (Write about that!)
Stuck is a place. Stuck is a place that we have arrived into from another place. And Stuck is a place where there are inherent invitations to what is next.
We can, if we pause in a compassionate way, long enough to be here (be in that zen moment of the here and now of stuckness), will recognize that there is life here. Movement. A calling or invitation. I have not met one person over these four decades of counseling who've come to me expressing feeling stuck in their life, who were actually stuck.
(That includes you my dear writing friend).
If you are feeling stuck as a writer here is all you have to do:
(a little or a lot of tough love here, hey, I'm a Writing Sherpa! I don't want you dying on the mountain side.)
Gather with talented and published writing instructors for a return to your inner writer and light at this years Write-by-the-Light Workshop and Retreat.
Time to Write by the Light! June 16th through June 19th, 2021.
Join me and other writers for this year's Write-by-the-LIGHT Workshops and Retreats.
Instructors from past Write-by-the-Lake retreats will offer our 1st summer Write-by-the-LIGHT workshops and retreat, LIVE and On-line. You have 2 workshop venues to choose from:
One: Laure Scheer's BACKPACKING BASICS - NATURE WRITING 101
Two: Julie Tallard Johnson’s Write Meaningful Nonfiction: Turn Your Personal Experiences, Knowledge, and Journaling into an Inspiring Book, Blog, or other Writing
Laurie and Julie will offer consecutive workshops 9 – 11:00 every morning and 2 to 4:00 every afternoon.
In addition! You can attend one-hour sessions with Christine DeSmet, Angela Rydell and Tim Storm. Molly Chanson, author and yoga instructor will offer an evening class of yoga for writers! And!, Laurie and Julie will give personal one-to-one attention and consultation to 10 pages of your writing following the retreat.
Click here for more information and to REGISTER: Write-by-the-LIGHT workshops and Retreat
Here is a great talk on writing, collaboration. the importance of poetry and poets and getting published . . . recorded now for your pleasure. (Click on the image below to watch)
Not until late in life did I come to understand how my life is framed by white privilege. In fact, this reality influences everything in my life. And if you are white—poor or not—this is also true for you. To reveal and benefit from the paradoxical nature of white privilege, we must explore what white privilege means within the context of our daily lives and how it affects our experience as a human being—a white woman in America, in my case. At some point, those of us who are privileged need to acknowledge this dynamic if we are to live an authentic life. White privilege isn’t in and of itself a paradox; as with any dynamic, it holds within it a paradoxical narrative. And white privilege holds many paradoxical narratives. My privileged life doesn’t mean I have always felt privileged. Therein lies a core paradox: we may have shame or fear, dynamics that drive our experience, but we may not be aware we have them. Once we realize that shame, for example, influences everything in our lives, we can begin to transform our lives. We can turn shame into self-compassion. This is true with white privilege too. Once we become aware of white privilege as a dynamic, we can live more honestly. We can be more fearless and compassionate. We can challenge this dynamic and own up to it through our beliefs, assumptions, and actions. Then, the second layer of paradox arrives: we still are privileged. With shame or fear, we may actually become wholly free of its influence on our lives. This is possible. At least such dynamics no longer drive our experience. White privilege has a culturally set context and cannot simply be shaken off with awareness or practice. The color of our skin—white privilege—follows us to our grave. Still, its paradoxical nature can help us live more honestly and compassionately. As long as we first maintain an awareness of how this dynamic is part of every experience, it may no longer secretly drive our experiences. As we challenge this dynamic internally, we can help change the outer landscape of racial injustices.
Herein arrives the third layer of paradox with white privilege: We can use our white privilege. We can choose to challenge racial injustices we encounter. We can speak up when we see someone being mistreated, bullied, or denied something because of their skin color.
This particular privileged state is just one.
In the words of the poet, Rebecca Cecchini: "There are, of course, many privileged states in our world that could be paradoxically included in this thread, including male privilege, young privilege, hetero privilege, economic privilege (often stemming from the others). These and other privileges so often ride unimpeded under our awareness but affect others deeply. They are part of our social constructs and move through all of us, surfacing wounds as the many “isms” we don’t personally wish to claim. Opportunity abounds here to make broader applications of the paradoxical lessons."
A worthwhile exploration for each of us may be to identify a particular privilege that is current in our life. There are simple approaches we can use to challenge and shift our privileged states and all of our contradictions to help us find contradictions’ inherent paradoxes. Write about that.
What are the paradoxes inherent in some of your stories and experiences? Write about that.
SAVE THE DATE: Laurie Scheer and I are finishing up the final plans for what this year will be Write-by-the-LIGHT. Since the UW Continuing Studies, Writing Program is closing, last year was the last WBTLake. However Laurie Scheer, myself, Angela Rydell and Tim Storm will be offering a superb and dynamic WBTLIGHT!.
Laurie and I will be offering a full retreat/workshop experience to choose from. There will be optional sessions with Tim Storm and Angela Rydell. And an open mike night, one yoga class for writers from Molly Chanson, as well as ways to meet up with other writers. For those who live near Madison, I will hold one in person meet up “on the lake, in the light.” Investment: $225. . And! Laurie and I will be offering a consultation on 10 pages for free afterward for all who sign up.
This will be great. It will be live and ZOOMED. The dates are June 16th through Saturday (till 4:00) the 19th.
"If you bring forth what is within you
what is within you will save you
If you do not bring forth what is within you
what is within you will destroy you.
–Agnostic Gospel according to Thomas
When I first heard this quote read out loud in a 1993 psychic development class, an inward shift began. So much was within me that wanted release and expression. My gifts, my knowledge, and intuition, all qualities that I was born with that up till then remained hidden, even to me. My first book came forth. My pain stories and trauma also came to my awareness for understanding and transformation. I understood then and now that our life's journey is about bringing forth what is within us.
These stories, personal experiences and gifts need releasing from the body and mind.
Writing flames us alive and brings forth what seeks expression, understanding and transformation. All we have to do is listen. Writing is listening. Writing is an expression. Writing brings transformation because it can bring up the pain stories for further healing and acknowledgment.
Eleven books have been brought forth from me. Each book contains what has been "within me."
What does writing bringing forth from you? Write about that?
What themes are weaved through your life? Write about that.
What does the quote mean to you? What might destroy or save you? Write about that.
What is something, perhaps your greatest fear, right now? Write about that.
That fear will point to what you need to bring forth, what you most want. My latest book, The Clue of the Red Thread came from my abandonment anxiety, of feeling alone, that somehow I would lose everything and everyone I love (pain story). The flip side of this of course is my desire to belong. I let this desire to belong, to collaborate with others out through action. I reached out to Parker J Palmer and began conversations that resulted in this book. Over the past six years my intention and actions have been to collaborate with others, to reach out and develop community through all my interests and projects. To join in. (Which is what motivated me to sign up for Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu two weeks ago).
How can you bring forth one of your deepest fears and its desire? Write about that.
How can you act on your desire? Write about that.
My most recent collaborations include working with Laurie Scheer to bring you a Write-by-the-Light workshop and retreat this June! I have been collaborating with Molly Chanson to bring writing and yoga together in our free fourth Wednesday nights of yoga and writing and our Sacred Thread retreats for yogis and writers.
All I see now are opportunities of collaboration.
Hidden Victims/Hidden Healers was the first book I let out from within. So much was brought forth!; the pain story of living with a brother with mental illness, the healing process of gathering with others in circle, the transformation of sharing our stories (first stage of healing) and what it meant to be a sister.
“The thing is, there is a need to deal with climate change, restore our democracy, heal the injustices close in and further out. We need to actually get that job, or finish that project. We need to connect. We need to change the conversation or let the conversation change us. We need to move forward somehow into the new next,”
- Julie Tallard Johnson, The Changing Conversation, the New Next & Clue of the Red Thread, February 5, 2021
A few weeks ago, while discussing her brilliant new book The Clue of the Red Thread, Julie said it best within the above quote - we need to move forward into the new next. She also mentions dealing with climate change and I would like to introduce you to a writing genre that offers opportunity to write within the world of the new next where your words can change our planet.
Welcome to a writing genre that you have always lived in.
When you began your day today did you notice the first bird, cloud, flower, or tree you viewed or passed by? Writers generally welcome writing prompts and this writing genre offers prompts 24/7 because it always surrounds you. The genre is known as Nature Writing and it has been around for decades.
The genre of Nature Writing is experiencing a popularity boost mostly due to the concern we have for our planet’s climate change and, in a nearly post-pandemic world, after having worked from home for a few months, we’ve been able to view and experience our backyards and common green areas in-between working on our screens more than we did when working in offices. Writing about Nature is, well, alive again.
Nature Writing often involves the love of a place, a favorite land, and/or an experience held/shared in Nature. Nature Writing is timeless, and necessary. If we do not write about our places and experiences then how will future generations know about our land, our Earth?
Sometimes referred to as Adventure Writing and Outdoor writing, this genre has its roots in the 19th century globally and continues to currently find engaged writers and avid readers – more than ever in previous decades. The genre is also welcoming many diverse voices and hence the genre is fast becoming known as a group of New Nature Writers.
More simply put, Nature Writing has found its time and place as our planet experiences unprecedented change and we as humans learn how to best maintain our home – for everyone because we are all on this planet as one. By recording your observations, researching the facts, and gathering up your enthusiasm, you generate writing pieces that can influence your readers. Nature Writing is necessary to save the planet. If we don’t share our experiences and assist our next generation in understanding the precious elements of our world, then we could find ourselves in a worse situation than we currently find ourselves in.
Your words can awaken change.
This is an arena that is as wide open as a grassy patch of land by the side of any roadside or on top of any mountain. Our environment is changing, and our voices need to be read.
Join us. We are a group of writers who take note of our first birds, clouds, flowers, and trees viewed daily. We are writing to save the world – literally. We are writing the new next.
New Nature Writers Writing Ranger
Write about a time you were forgotten.
Take a story or scene or essay that you are writing on and turn it into a poem.
When you go on your writer's walk today (in search of an idea or to make contact with the natural world), notice three new images or encounters that you have not noticed in the past. Write about these.
Throw out, donate or recycle something today that you find you have been moving around the house but really it's just clutter. Write about this object and its journey with you. (Or write from the objects perspective).
Write about how COVID intersects with your writer's life. Use the images found on your walk.
Write about an assumption you hold about someone you don't like. And about someone you love.
Write about an assumption you hold of the world or others that holds you back or makes you want to give up.
As in all my writing prompts, let them take you where they will. My writing prompts come from an intuitive place that invites us to explore and discover what it is we truly want to write about. Let go of expectations and assumptions you hold of yourself or your writing. And notice the pilgrimage itself and where you arrive.
Join me and other writers for FIRST FRIDAY WRITING RETREATS. This coming March 5th, Friday we will explore more on the theme of Vulnerability through and in our writing. On the First Friday in April we will have a wonderful day of writing and yoga with me and Molly Chanson! Send me an email, and hold the dates. firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be live through ZOOM until we can safely meet up in person!❤️
The Clue of The Red Thread is now available on Amazon.🌈
I am currently reading a biography called Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius written by A. Scott Berg. It depicts the life and career of Max Perkins of Scribner’s publishing house who brought forth the works of powerhouse authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Wolfe, and others.
Perkins was not a writer himself, but as an editor he had nearly inexhaustible sympathy, respect, and dedication to the craft. He coached, encouraged, bolstered, and supported his authors when they stumbled and despaired, which was often.
He well understood that the writing life was plagued by solitude, toil, and self-doubt. Then, if a work of great art (or even just okay art) was successfully printed and critically esteemed, the writer was sentenced to the depression and struggle of producing another work of equal or greater value, as was the case with Fitzgerald following The Great Gatsby. Tom Wolfe scrawled reams of pages of description and character sketches while standing beside a refrigerator which he used as his preferred writing surface. He produced prolifically--and had no idea what to do next with his material. Marjorie Rawlings, author of the perennially beloved novel The Yearling toiled for a year on the project, then threw the manuscript out.
In each of these cases, Max Perkins pleaded with and implored the authors to continue, to not give up. To one author he wrote, “Just get it all down on paper and then we’ll see what to do with it.” And ultimately, the authors muddled their way through mess, muck, and morass to create something that was publishable and could be put into the hands and minds of readers forever after.
So, I take heart in the familiar struggle of some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. They were both brilliant and fragile, brimming with both insight and uncertainty. They were like us. Let us, then, find our own Max Perkins--someone, something to cheer us on and force us to continue the painful effort. The end makes the means possible, even when the means feel impossible. Or, as Perkins himself put it so well, “I feel certain that it will end very well indeed, if you can endure the struggle. The struggle is part of the process.”
Camilia Cenek is a writer, consultant, and editor. She delights in working with both emerging and experienced writers to bring their stories to life. In 2020, she won first place for nonfiction in the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest. Contact Camilia at email@example.com
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material to explore & write about. Here, the spiritual path meets up with the writer's path. Read the All Write Wednesdays posts.