Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Life History of Writing - A Prompt

Writers are lone rangers.  We know the work is hard and soul-searching "lone ranger work." As a creative writing instructor at the Summer Writer's Conference at Yale said to us yesterday, "If you want applause, become a high diver.  Don't become a writer."

The prompt for our July 9 read-around is to write a life history of your writing. 

  • What is your first recollection of writing?  
  • Where do you write and under what conditions? 
  • Do you write for "your eyes only" or are you writing for publication? 
  • Where has the journey of writing led and what have you learned along the way?

As always, if this prompt does not suit, please bring whatever else your muse inspires to our next read-around from 9 - 11:30 a.m. Saturday, July 9 at Wellington Square.  Hope to see you then.

All the best,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Women Writing With Women

On Friday I leave for a conference sponsored by the International Women's Writing Guild at Yale University. I look forward to women writers coming together to share creativity, insight and experience. Women will gather . . . the love of writing binds us together and helps break the isolation. 

We long to - need to - find our voice through personal narrative. As I was re-reading James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, I was struck by these words: "It is of paramount importance that our spirituality be validated or confirmed by fidelity to our personal experience."

For women this often happens through oral exchanges of stories in groups like the Women's Writing Circle.  These exchanges lead to validation, the "aha!" moment that our experience has resonated with another.

Women can explore the unconventional life through narratives.  Writing unlocks the door blocking passage to the meaning we seek . . .  to a fuller, richer life.

So as I head to Yale University for women writing with women, I look forward to meeting "seekers" of personal truth, storytellers of collective plots that comprise a woman's writing life.  I look forward to my own ongoing writing journey and sharing it with you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Morning At Wellington Square

My next book, Morning at Wellington Square, is about the quest to find passion, renewal and magic and life's lessons learned along the way.

By writing my first memoir, Again in a Heartbeat,  I was able to heal.  Only through healing could I offer what I had learned to other writers, hopefully giving them the strength and encouragement to write their stories, as hard as that is.  It takes courage to write from the heart. More than that, I believe it takes a circle of writers coming together to say, "I hear you.  This, too, I know." 

Writing is a way to heal - a way to make sense of things and find our voice. Writing is also a journey and a magical one at that. But it takes a community of kindred spirits to make it happen, to ease the isolation of being a writer. This is the power of the Women's Writing Circle or any writing group you may form in your community. You realize you are not alone. Your story is mine and mine is yours. We are in this together.  This is one of  the messages of  Morning at Wellington Square.

I stumbled upon Wellington Square one October day, one of those perfect autumn days in Pennsylvania with sharp blue skies and  just a hint of winter in the air. Two Chinese stone lions graced either side of the bookstore’s front door.

I stepped inside. A marble fish sculpture fountain gurgled in the foyer, spouting water into a pale green pool with shiny coins. Cinnamon and vanilla-scented candles burned on the front desk. A full-sized human skeleton lounged on a high-backed chair, his bony fingers dangling toward the hardwood floor. Whoever owns this place has a sense of humor, I thought.  Life is fleeting, absurd; but it is all we have.

Books – books on mahogany tables and in bookshelves reaching as high as the ceiling captured my attention. I loved the smell of them, the look of them, the idea of them . . . each containing something unique to its author.

In the back of the store, red and tan upholstered couches and chairs arranged in a circle around a coffee table offered charming intimacy, as if I had entered someone's living room. It occurred to me . . .this is the perfect place for a writing circle.

I had never forgotten the writing retreat in Kentucky where I first felt the magic of women sharing their stories. As night enveloped us, Mary Ann lit a candle to “open the Circle.” We began the read-around . . .

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Want To Tell My Story

When a community of writers comes together, it is a mosaic of beautiful interlocking and symmetrical pieces. When writers share their work, it is a learning experience. Suddenly, you are both teacher and student.

Writing is a way to make sense of things. "It is nourishing to my soul," one writer said at our June read-around. "I want to tell my story."

Often, people think writing is merely a pastime, a superfluous hobby. It's cheaper than therapy, they laugh. They don't get it. Stories are the ultimate human connection.

Even when you are not writing, you need to be thinking about writing. What was missing in that piece, you wonder as you walk a trail? What should I title it, you ask as you lie awake in bed at night?  Why is this so hard . . . such painstaking work, also comes to mind?  It takes practice, just like mastering any talent. It is not a "quick finish."

Sometimes, you just follow the pen.  Writing does what it does.  "Writing is a gift," one woman said at yesterday's read-around.

As Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale  puts it: "Writing, like sewing, takes one thing and makes it into another. Writing, like sewing, was always for someone, even if that someone was yourself in the future. Writing was a way of sending your voice to someone you might never meet."

Storytellers come to the Women's Writing Circle.  We light the candle, talk about the joys and challenges of writing and then begin the read-around.  You hope .  . .  maybe,  just maybe, I waded through the morass, the jumble of my thoughts and emotions well enough to craft a story that resonates. You remember that summer when either tragedy or elation came your way. You needed to make sense of it. Maybe you will go back and rework it when there is greater distance.  All you really know, deep inside of you, is that  you needed to let it go . . . you needed to tell the story. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing as a Lifeline

I've often talked about the healing power of writing, but no more has the truth of this hit home than now.  On June 3 I lost my brother Andy Weidener to cancer.  It came as a terrible shock to everyone due to how swiftly the disease moved and took him from us.  Yet, his suffering was alleviated quickly and compassionately by palliative sedation through hospice.  For this, everyone is eternally grateful.

In many ways it is a relief to know how modern medicine enables us to transition from this world to the next without undue anxiety and prolonged pain.  Now Andy's suffering is over, but the grief has just begun for those he leaves behind - a beautiful, loving wife, two devoted daughters who adored him, many admiring friends . . . and me, Andy's "little sister Susie," seven years younger, who lost her only sibling. 

I will always be grateful for having my writing at a time like this.  Writing has saved my life in so many ways that it is difficult to enumerate here, but by putting into words the defining moments of our lives - the "passages" so to speak of  falling in love, the birth of a child, countered with separation, loss and  death - there eventually comes peace. 

What a joy it is to know that someday - not now - but in the future, I can write about Andy and "relive" our time together; the day I was born and he gave me a teddy bear which I still have, the night he and his fraternity brother escorted me and my best friend to the senior prom and kept everyone guessing who those handsome older men were . . . the morning he hugged his wife, his parents and me and then straightened his shoulders and bravely boarded that plane to serve in Vietnam.

After many years of grieving, I was able to put into perspective my husband's untimely death from cancer in my memoir Again in a  Heartbeat.  I wrote about falling in love with John, losing him, and then coming to terms with the knowledge that in the end I needed to take Susan in my arms, love her and move on. 

For those of us who are writers, we are blessed with the gift of writing as a source of strength, understanding and realization that there is a wider life out there.  Our time here is fleeting. Our writing lasts and is our legacy.

So now it is back to the work of writing, coaching others to write and sharing our stories in the Circle.  I look forward to many, many more years of this "moveable feast" . . .  of stories and people casting each other the "lifeline" that is writing.