I’ve just returned home from my “celebration” trip. It was the trip I promised myself I’d take after completing part one of my memoir. It served as both a carrot leading me toward my goal, and also as a reward for accomplishing it. And, best of all, it was within my control; I didn’t have to depend on anything or anybody outside myself to legitimize or acknowledge my accomplishment.
I went to Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs and called it a retreat, rather than a vacation, because I wanted to give thanks, nourish myself, slow down, get really still and quiet—and listen deeply. I wanted to go offline and stayoffline, not for hours, but for days. I stared at the sky and at swaying palm trees, watched rabbits and roadrunners, and reconnected with my husband (whom I invited to join me). We held hands, lingered in bed, and soaked in warm mineral springs.
We also hiked Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park. We hadn’t done that in years, and I’d forgotten how challenging the first two-thirds of the trail was. It was a steep climb, but each of us put one foot in front of the other—and as we hiked I thought, This is a lot like writing, which involves putting one thought down and then another. Step-by-step. They both involve wandering, exploring, and they both require patience, courage, and faith.
Patience. I couldn’t hurry up that mountain any more than I can hurry through my memoir. I had to find my own pace. Not my husband’s pace, not the pace of the long-legged, male thirty-something who sprinted ahead of us on the trail. Not the pace I’d taken years ago, but my where-I-am-now pace—the one I could sustain, explore, and enjoy. The same holds true for my writing. I’m the only one who can tell what’s right for me in terms of pacing.
Courage. I need courage to keep moving forward in life—especially when things get difficult. At times my writing, like hiking that mountain, has felt impossible. Though this manuscript seems to be flowing through me. I seem, at long last, to be moving out of my own way so that what needs to come through me is free to do so. This is a relief and a blessing for which I continue to be grateful.
Faith. While hiking, I prayed I wouldn’t lose my footing and fall off the side of the mountain. And I pray I won’t fall off the point of my project or wander into literary quicksand. This is where gratitude for my coach and editor comes in. It’s wonderful having someone read my work, somebody who guides my steps and keeps me from sinking. Faith. I have it in her and in myself—and last week I counted on it to know I’d reach the peak if I simply kept moving toward it.
The view at the top of Ryan Mountain was spectacular—a 360-degree view of desert hills, expansive and golden in the late autumn afternoon. But it was cold and windy so we didn’t stay there as long as I would have liked. Having to head back down so quickly reminded me it’s not the destination—in my projects and in my life—that matters as much as the journey. The hike’s the thing. The adventure, what happens while heading toward my destination (or goal). It’s nice to have goals, and to reach them, but the real treat is what happens along the way. What matters are the values cultivated in pursuit of goals—patience, courage, and faith are stellar travel companions.
So as I head, with a grateful heart and a rested soul, into part two of my memoir, I plan to rely on these three friends—patience, courage, and faith—to accompany the next leg of my journey.
Have you ever had this thought: I’m not a real writer. I have. My students and clients have. In fact, most writers I know have been caught in this gremlin snare more times than they’d care to admit.
What does a “real” writer’s life look like?
I used to think I wasn’t a writer unless I spent eight hours a day in my office writing and was 100 percent focused on my writing and nothing else. For years I put off teaching because I thought it would take me away from my writing. I put off developing my BodyTalk Creative Writing & Movement curriculum for the same reason. In an attempt to stay “on task,” I cut myself off from essential parts of myself, especially from my body, which thrives on authentic, intuitive movement, dance, yoga, and raw food.
I also held at bay my interest in spiritual psychology. For most of my life I’ve had parallel interests in literature and human potential/personal growth. I read novels, literary memoirs, and poems, along with books about cultivating consciousness. As much as I craved and was nourished by those books about consciousness, I dismissed them as not literary, and judged them less valuable.
I never imagined I’d be writing a commercial, issue-based, prescriptive memoir. But here I am, following my bliss, and my life feels like a lotus blossom in full bloom. Last Saturday, at a Woman’s Retreat I facilitated, one of the participants pointed out that lotus blossoms are practically indestructible—and they grow in muck and mud! My muck and mud have been my limited and limiting ideas about what I thought a “real” writer’s life was supposed to look like. I was so concerned about trying to create thatlife, I resisted my own. The question I wish I’d asked myself years ago is: What might my ideal writer’s life look and feel like? I would have described the life I am living today, which is far from perfect—I stumble trying to cram more into a day than is possible, but my life is larger than I ever imagined it could be. Am I writing eight hours a day, every day? No. But I’ve established a comfortable and steady pace that works in conjunction with teaching, coaching, blogging, reading, dancing, yoga, and other activities that nourish my writing and my life. This is my new, “real”—balanced!—writer’s life. It works for me better than the old one ever did.
Here’s a story I share with my students and clients when it’s clear they don’t think of themselves as “real” writers. (I don’t know where it comes from and I’m sorry I cannot site its source.) Every morning when he sits at his desk to work, an Italian writer, gazes wistfully out his window, down into the piazza below and sees a man, dressed in rags, passionately scribbling notes on scraps of paper with a pencil stub. Now there’s a real writer, the man thinks. What the writer in the office doesn’t know is that every day the man clutching his scraps of paper and pencil stub looks up at the man sitting at his desk by the window, and thinks, Now there’s a real writer.
What does your writer’s life look like? I’d love to hear about it.