Meet Matt Geiger. I met Matt by responding to an ad in the local Buyers Guide. I was new to Mount Horeb and searching for connection and opportunities to meet my neighbors. So, instead of throwing out the Guide, I took a look. (It was a lonely night and one never knows where inspiration and connection can be found.) I didn't find anything until up in the right-hand corner on the last page was a small ad for a reporter. I applied and Matt (the Managing editor) asked me to send my resume and a writing example. I sent him a recent All Write Wednesday blog. I figured he wouldn't be interested. I figured wrong. I have been writing articles on the Town of Blue Mounds board meeting for 5 months now. When I shared my new writing job with a friend she gave me Matt's first book, “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He has since visited my writing circles where he has astonished and inspired us all. Matt Geiger’s debut book, “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories” won First Prize in the Midwest Book Awards and was named as a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the American Book Fest. His new book, “Astonishing Tales!” was named by Cyrus Webb as one of the best non-fiction books of 2018. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their four-year-old daughter.
Playing With Words by Matt Geiger
We are a narrative species.
Each animal has its own special adaptations that allow it to survive, and sometimes even thrive, in a hostile world. Giraffes have their long necks. Cheetahs have their speed. Birds of paradise have their resplendent plumage. Turtles have their shells. Wolverines have mandibles shellacked in bone marrow.
And we have our stories.
When other species are young, they play with their gifts, honing their adaptations to a razor’s edge. The baby pronghorn jumps and runs, practicing maneuvers that will one day keep its haunches just out of a pursuing wolf’s snapping jaws. The baby tiger stalks a leaf.
We play, too. We play with words. And once we are good enough, we play with stories. Because stories are how we survive. They are how we elude the devils that pursue us, and they are how we give meaning to magnificent little lives that, when you think about the scale of the cosmos, and billions of years that our earth has been here, and the 200,000 years that our species has been walking and wondering, are so very small.
One of the most important things stories do is to help us really see the world around us.
There is a bumper sticker, popular in the part of the country where I live, that proclaims: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention!” I think the opposite is true. Outrage is easy. Outrage will come to you. You don’t even have to try. Your phone will deliver outrage directly to your eyes, which will instantly transfer it to your amygdala, where it will fester and eventually cause you to lash out at your fellow human beings, before it eventually gives you a heart attack or a stroke.
You don’t have to pay attention to be outraged. Outrage is for the lazy. What you really need to pay attention in order to see, is all the beauty, and all the humor, that paint the spaces between the anger in our vast world. Those are real, and they are here with us, but it is they that require effort on our part. It is they that require vision. If you don’t see them, you aren’t paying attention.
And that is where stories come in. You have to be observant, and you have to assume your readers are not. Yet.
Stories help us see the world around us. They disrupt our habitual perception of the world, shaking us out of the autopilot we use to get through our days. They make us really see. And once we start really seeing the world, what we find is not horrible, cruel, evil, ugly things - which we knew were there all along - but rather beautiful, funny, wonderful things.
Beauty and humor mean nothing if you do not see them. You, as a writer, show them to people, really put them in front of people, and say, “look!”
The first step is simply to stop and see the things right in front of you, which is what most novels and short stories do. There is even a word for it (in Russian): “Ostrananie.” It means “to make strange” or to “defamiliarize.” When writers employ ostranenie, they use semantic or linguistic shifts to slightly change the reader’s perspective, and they give the gift of sight. They make the reader really see the things in the story, by showing them in the illumination of strangeness, and the result is a gift.
And with that strangeness comes intimacy, and the opportunity to share.
I’ve written before that there are really only two times in life when we really, really see things. The first time, and the last. What you try to do when you write, is to let people back into the world, so that they can see it as if for the first time, but before it’s the last.
Out minds already know this. Each night while we slumber in darkness, our brains go to work, flooding themselves with ideas and images from our ordinary lives, but made strange. And in your dreams, when your mother rides in on a Huguenot, or your boss morphs into a homunculus in a jar of spirits on the desk in front of you, your mind sees the problems that lay before you in the real world, and works to solve the puzzles of everyday life.
If you write humor, you want your readers to laugh more; not just when you tell a joke in your book, but out there, in the big, messy world. You want your stories to make them see more humor in the real world.
If you write horror, you don’t just want your readers to jump on page 130, when a monster jumps out of the shadows; you want their skin to crawl a month later, when they have to go into the basement to change a lightbulb.
If you write romance, you don’t just want them to fall in love with your characters; you want them to be more able to give and receive love in the real world.
Words are merely symbols. “Love,” “hate,” “beauty,” “death” - they are not the things they represent. But they can make you see the things they represent.
Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest writers of humor and tragedy, knew that a comprehensive view of the world is impossible, but he also showed us, through his stories, that little bursts of insight, meaning, and humor are possible. That’s why we have our stories, our species’ adaptation, which help us to see the world, and to share it with those around us.
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In my work with writers I give a lot of attention to the writer’s life and the writing experience. When we set up the conditions for a writer’s life, we will write. When we write, our writing will naturally improve. Our voices will emerge from the words; our ideas will move along the page; we will discover ourselves, our stories and what is meaningful to us. When we cultivate a writer’s life, –– blogs, articles, poems, and books will emerge from our busy lives.
We will flourish as writers.
“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." –Toni Morrison in her mobilizing manifesto on the writer’s task in troubled times. And these are troubled times. Fortunately, whatever arises in our life can be material to work with. Everything can be used for healing, transformation, and connection.
We can accept that the world is chaotic, troubled and often overwhelming with causes but we must not give into its malevolence. As I have written before, there are always a multitude of possibilities in any given situation. We just have to look up and get off our deck chairs. It’s hard not to be stuck in this sense of it doesn’t matter what I do. Little ole me.
It does matter.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he (or she) does not become a monster.” Friedrich Nietzsche
The monsters, villains, antagonists, and antiheroes are here for one purpose and one purpose only: to awaken the hero. In each of us. The Trouble Makers, as it turns out, are a great asset to us both individually and collectively. Just as there is no good story without a villain, there is no life without them either.
They’re here. Sometimes they are hidden behind the scenes, sometimes they are out in the open.
In one of my writing circles Someone said “I’m in,” after she checked in. Most of us tend to say, “I’m done.” This idea of being “in” rather than “done” took hold and now several people when finished with their check-ins say, “I’m in.”
Acknowledging that we are in demonstrates the difference between saying we are friends and being in a friendship. Being married or being in a marriage. We may have lots of friends on Facebook but only a few can claim a true friendship. In, is active, means you are engaged and showing up for yourself and others. I’m in is a commitment and acknowledgment of willing participation.
In writing you want to be all in. It’s one thing to say you’re a writer and another to be in your writing. “I’m in” shows up on the page for the reader because an engaged writer narrates better than one that is forcing some process or isn’t all in. An “I’m in” writer lets the writing take us where it will.
2018–2019 Consultation Circle for Writers: Work with an established Author & Instructor Starts in OCTOBER, 2018
Starting in OCTOBER of 2018 I will begin my next Year-long Writing Consultation Circle. We meet the first Wednesday of the month for a year
The cost is $35 a month and includes my critiquing up to 4 pages, writing partnership with other writers, monthly guidance, writing prompts and tools, instruction and support.
IF YOU ARE WORKING ON A BOOK or book idea this circle is for you! It helps a great deal to be part of such a circle, even if it means only meeting once a month and exchanging a few pages with your writing partner and with me. Most successful writers rely on support from others who have written and are living the writer’s life.
Write Meaningful Nonfiction: Turn Your Personal Experiences, Knowledge, and Journaling into an Inspiring Book, Blogs, or Other Writing
Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat
Some time in June, 2018
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. each day
Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison
To Register: UW Madison Write by The Lake
Write meaningful nonfiction based on your personal experiences and knowledge.
Write a book based on just an idea or theme.
Write on a subject that has captivated your attention.
Write a book taken from your blogs.
Write a book, blog or article based from your field notebooks.
Write transformational nonfiction based on journal entries or letters.
Write a book based on your travels, spiritual experience, encounters or views.
It’s not about trying to fit into our clothes, rather, having clothes that fit. Every scene in our life holds the potential for presence and connection. Vulnerability is our best protection. A little yoga goes a long way. If a sentence, job, scene, or relationship doesn’t work stop trying to force things along. There are no secrets. We have nothing to prove to anyone (and everything to learn). We are here to discover. Grief takes as long as it takes. A divided life is exhausting. (If you are living a divided life you are likely exhausted). Practice meeting everyone and …
I tend to write more from my life than about my life. Journal writing is a way to be in conversation with all that is going on around us and inside of us. That’s one reason I don’t leave home without a field notebook. Often my blogs (as you have likely come to realize) are about what is happening right now, what I’m figuring out or encountering at this time. This is how I’ve written most of my books and now how I am approaching my novel.
I have developed what I call a Conversational Arc that helps writers explore a question and theme. Because life at its core is conversational, anything that keeps us engaged in this conversation helps us achieve our creative intentions. (I have an upcoming retreat/writeshop on Staying In The Conversations: A Transformational Writers’ Writeshop FRIDAY, January 11th.)
After seven months away from writing my novel, I re-joined Julie’s monthly writing circle ready to begin again. I’d finally finished the first draft on Christmas Eve, 2015. The next step was clear: spend the next year writing the second draft.
Julie uses the analogy of climbing a mountain to frame our approach to our writing and writing circle. We were at the base camp, about to begin our climb. What’s our intentions as we begin this journey? What keeps us going? What do we need to complete the climb?
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.
About the Author
Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dog through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison 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.
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