I published the story of how before I became a national poetry slam chick, I used to be a cringing poetry chicken. It’s all about using magic to move past what we are afraid of and how to claim what we really want.
I cringed inside every time he said it.
“This is Marya. She’s a poet.”
I was ashamed. His introduction made me feel like an imposter.
Even though I’d been writing poetry since I was young.
Even though I’d taken poetry workshop classes in college.
Even though I’d published literary magazines.
Even though I’d read and performed poems publicly.
Even though my poems had been published.
Other writers will understand. Something about calling myself a poet felt self-important. Pretentious. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be called a poet because I wasn’t a Great American Poet.
I tried to explain, “Poet, author, artist, musician… one does not just bandy these terms about.”
You can read the rest of it here at my Wholly Creative blog where I discuss some of the Hermetic principles of magic that helped me manifest what my heart really desired.
I’ve been trying to write about sacrifice for days now. I realized it was important part of Fire element (I’m writing a book, Practical Magic for Writers, where I look at writing through the lens of the four classical elements), that we need sacrifice in order to keep us committed. I know this firsthand; I’ve sacrificed big time.
I have a clear purpose, a clear audience, but there is something in me so adverse, so resistant to writing about it that I haven’t been able to get myself to sit down to write for three days. When I try, my aversion has me open Facebook or email or compose something else. I’m a professional writer, for fucksake. And a writing coach. “Heal thyself!” I scream at myself in my head. Disgusted.
Lighting a candle got me to sit down and open my lap top and start writing. I made it to 800ish words in a herky-jerky, stop-start process that felt a lot more like learning to drive a stick-shift than sitting down to write.
It’s a huge relief when I realize I am crying. I’m opening a huge can of worms. Fucking huge. Because to me sacrifice means leaving my then-2-year-old daughter with her father so that I could write. And it’s difficult to explain how I could do that and not be a monster; or if I am, how I got to be that monster. Or how my now-26-year-old daughter has both benefitted and been hurt by my choices. How we both say I did the best I could, given the circumstances, but both of us feel like we deserved better. We’re both still hurting and angry.
It’s difficult to explain the subtleties of what happened – how I didn’t “give her up,” for instance, or how much my difficult relationship – including emotional, physical and sexual abuse – with my own parents influenced my choices. It’s too much. And my cat, which has been relegated to the porch for shitting and pissing all over the house, is howling. Other than the over-eating, she’s a healthy cat. But she’s an emotional wreck.
Anxiety has me by the shoulders and is shaking me hard. And I want to punch the cat and shake her hard. I want her howling to stop so that my pain will stop its howling. Who can write in these conditions?
I decide not to be thwarted by writer’s block. Not to succumb to the urge to punch the cat. To write, even if it is crap. Just write it anyway. Because if I don’t write, not only do I feel the pain of the past but I also feel the pain of my present – my past and current powerlessness. And if I punch the cat, then I really am a monster.
I have rationalized my choices, but I haven’t forgiven myself. I’m pretty sure that’s holding me back. I’ve been punished enough. I am ready to be forgiven, to be washed clean. I want all the experience, all of the wisdom, none of the pain, none of the guilt.
The cat is still howling.
Too much of the time, I have felt like a hostage of circumstance. But I’ve decided my victim days are over. So, fuck you, anxiety and pain and shame and fear. Fuck you. You don’t get to control my life anymore.
I’m writing you off, out of my life. I will squeeze you out, shake you off. You will dangle at the end of my sentence, howling.
I love a good ritual! A few years back I invented a ritual to celebrate the new year and honor the things I wanted for myself and my life.
It started as an urge to give others what they most wanted. Just before Christmas 2015, I had been brainstorming gift ideas for a couple of close friends. I wanted something that would be meaningful but wouldn’t be expensive. I had squirreled away some giant mugs with spiritual quotes that seemed like a good start, but I didn’t just want to stuff them with candy (so impersonal!) or give an empty mug (symbolically awful!).
I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could give the people I love what their hearts most desire?”
The rest came to me pretty quickly. I conceived of a variation on a floral arrangement in the mug: “The Manifestation Tree.” It would be an attractively arranged bunch of branches from which paper leaves were hung by ribbons. On the leaves, goals, desires, or dreams could be written down with the intention of the growing them into existence.
It was everything: affordable, meaningful, symbolic, and practical.
I gathered fallen branches in a eucalyptus grove. Then I went to the craft store for the rest of the supplies: florist’s foam, decorative moss, silver spray paint, ribbon, craft paper, permanent markers. I selected silver spray paint and shimmery craft paper to create a magical feel, and then I chose ribbon colors specific to my friends’ personalities. My Buddhist friend would get a purple-ribboned tree in a black mug with an image of Buddha; and my yogini friend would get a aqua-blue ribboned tree in a blue mug with the lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles.
My friends appreciated their gifts, keeping them up for the season and then saving the mug when the branches had served their purpose.
I was so in love with my invention that I made an identical blue tree for myself, and it still stands. My manifestation tree sits on my kitchen table year round, a sort of altar in the my home’s nerve center of growth: the place where I nourish, heal, and warm myself.
I’ve watched as each of the intentions I wrote down manifested one by one. The leaves were a visual reminder of what I wanted in my life, and I believe moved me toward what I wanted. As I identified new goals, I wrote them down and added them to the tree.
The tree is rather full now, and I’ve seen most of what I intended come to fruition. This year, I may begin removing the leaves that have manifested to make room for new ones to grow. It seems fitting that these leaves be sent up in fire or stored in a special place.
In these final days of summer, let’s take time to honor the season’s fiery energy before it’s gone. That fire manifests itself in lots of activity, frequently recreational activities, because the days are longer and we feel more alive, and because the season’s heat is balanced by the cooling qualities of play and leisure, which restore and rejuvenate us.
They don’t call it recreation, for nothing.
In agriculture, the summer is the period of growth and maturation, catalyzed by all that abundant sunlight. Fall is the season of harvest — that time where we reap the benefits of the seeds we planted in spring. We see the farmer’s calendar reflected in the school year, which is why we have the summer off to play, and in fall and spring we work.
Often the fun we’ve had during the summer is perceived as less productive (and therefore less valuable) than other times of year when we are hard at work. This true only if we are measuring our productivity in terms of external achievements rather than internal growth.
Because I teach a full course load of college classes and run my own creative coaching business, I certainly need my goof-off time just for sanity’s sake. Summertime is when I get it. Sometimes I’m down on myself for what feels like an indulgence; I often overlook how much I’m actually getting done while I’m “doing nothing.”
This summer was no exception. By summer’s end, I groaned at how little I’d done in the way of crossing things off my “To Do” list. I was pretty close to giving myself a hard time about my lack of discipline. But then I thought about how much got done (intentional use of the passive voice, folks!) while I was doing nothing.
While I was off playing and having a great time, I underwent important, transformational growth. For instance, I met a wonderful someone with whom I deeply connected and thereby received not only a summer playmate, but a growth accelerator. The romance sparked my imagination and ignited my heart, but it also aroused fear and touched old wounds. As the fiery energy of summer kindled desire and affection, it helped me burn through some of the debris of the past.
Moving into the fall, I have an opportunity to create stories and essays from my summer experiences, harvesting the wisdom from my my growth. Like that old Christian hymn says, I will be “bringing in the sheaves” (sheaves are bundles of grain) that matured during the sunny season. And I will rejoice the planting, growing, and harvesting as I write.
Writing is how I thresh and winnow, separating the wheat from the chaff (or rice from the chaff, for those of us who are gluten-free). To continue the metaphor, ultimately, this process is how I make my dough, make a living, sustain myself. It’s how I became a “real writer.”
Remember that essay your teacher made you write on what you did during your summer vacation? Why not write one now?
by Marya Summers In the summer of 2003, poets from around the world converged in Chicago for the National Poetry Slam. One densely packed nightclub was electric with anticipation for the group poem showcase, a highlight of the annual event. You could have supplied power to a small town with the energy my own body […]
Writing “into the moment” rather than “about the moment” allows you to slow down and appreciate where you are. This practice can help writers be writers. And crazy-busy people be just plain ol’ busy and not so much crazy.
Think of it as a form of meditation. Except that, if you’re a writer, you’re also getting something accomplished and not just sitting there. To do this, you use the five senses to bring yourself fully into your experience. You will see how memory is fed and intuition is fired when you drink in everything deeply through the senses. In your dilated state, fully aware of the gross world, you are attuning your awareness so that it can become increasingly subtle. Writing about the sensory world “the world of the particulars” allows you to really immerse yourself. In meditation, they call this “mindfulness.”
But if you’re a busy person — one who is juggling so many things that it’s hard to slow down like that for big chunks of time — sometimes trying to honor a daily writing practice seems like one more thing to do. And it doesn’t feel urgent, so it gets put off. I know. I’ve been there.
When I was a smoker, even when I was crazy busy working full-time and going to graduate school full time, I used to take 5 minutes to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Suddenly everything just got put on hold for 5 whole minutes. It wasn’t a question of if I would do it. It happened like clockwork. Every hour or two, I’d take those 5 minutes and enjoy the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I don’t smoke anymore. But I often take these little breaks anyway.
It’s the perfect time to write about the sun and the wind in just a little writing “quickie.” One that feels like a stolen moment of down time.
Buddhist priest and writer Fiona Robyn calls these short snippets of writing into the moment “Small Stones.” She says two things define this writing practice: 1) it’s short and 2) it precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. Writing Small Stones is not only a mindfulness practice, it’s a creative practice that can get you living up to your potential as a writer.
It’s practices like these that help us build a consistent and feel-good writing life that I address in my Wholly Creative writing workshops. If you want to know more about them, you can go here. I have found that writing is my spiritual practice, and it’s important that I do it regularly and often to stay centered and grounded, which translates to sane and happy. If leading and attending workshops is like going to church; small stones are like daily prayers of gratitude. I need both.
These excerpts from well-known poets are fully engaged and small enough to be a small stone. The last one is by Fiona Robyn herself.
William Carlos Williams, From “Paterson: Book I”
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!
Wallace Stevens, From “Of Mere Being”
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
Dan Oestreich, From “Going to Sleep”
the sound of the creek
just after the rain stopped
trees still drip-dripping
and the clouds starting to break
wide open into
(I remember now)
a kind of blue peace
Fiona Robyn, From Small Stones
The sun sags in the sky. Half a lemon sits face down in a puddle, scenting the water with citrus. Everything tightens against the cold.
Take a break right now and write a Small Stone, and then share it in the comments section!
While the stars were out last night, I was dreaming crazy dreams. I mean C-R-A-Z-Y.
When the sun rose, and I awoke, I began writing.
Magic was afoot, and it was evident because something was out of balance. Someone had imposed his or her will on the land, and the result was a frenzy of wings. Every sort of bird took to the sea and sky and found space among the four-legged animals that crowded the land. It felt scary, an omen of some kind…
…a villainess and her entourage want your home, which has no doors only elaborate passages between rooms, but more — she seems to want YOU. There is some power you hold that you are unaware of. She tries to control you by taking away what you love — Ashley and Oliver, your daughter and your cat. You know who you are when you are with them — because you serve each other and give each other reasons to live, to go out, to go on, and to come home. These are the attachments that fortify you. When they disappear, you are as concerned for them as you are for yourself. You ask about the chaos of animals outside. She says, “A creativity spell.”
You know what you must do, but do not know how.
You begin to cast a spell you can barely recall that you saw once in a book. You spell R-E-G-I-N-A out, tracing each letter with a finger in the air. Then shave the first letter off, E-G-I-N-A. Then G-I-N-A. Each letter is supposed to represent something, hold some power. “S” you remember stands for “Sin” but there is no “S” in “Regina” and you think maybe you’ve remembered the spell wrong, but you go on. Because now that you are powerless, faith is all you have. Faith, and this magically enhanced land, and this doorless house, and though you are uncertain of your power, you know it’s valuable because other people have come for it. You need to learn about your own abilities, understand your own resources. You have to become your own teacher.
Writing down snippets of imagery and story from my dreams has helped me glean their messages. I do more than merely recording the events, which is often boring and time-consuming because I dream so much. But as I write into, rather than about, the dream images and feelings while I am still waking up, I awaken to the depth of the messages.
From this dream, I realized I’d been resisting financial success and material gain because it made me feel vulnerable on many levels — spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I also realized I don’t entirely trust creativity or understand my own power. Still, I rule (Regina means queen) and can create change with words and writing … even in thin air.
WOW! Huge messages that I would have missed if I simply woke up and said, “Dude, I had some crazy-ass dreams last night.”
Some mornings I wake up and write into the dream just to record characters, images or plot.
Like this recent entry:
No one was certain but they speculated she’d been eaten by alligators, having spent so much time among them. She was once queen of the forest, connoisseur of the bramble and buzz, cheerleader for the chaos of nature. She appreciated its logic. She knew the alligators and did not fear them. She watched them float at the surface, creep from the black Florida muck, and slide into the darkly steeped rivers. Every river was alligator soup, teaming with decay, which was nourishment, more that she’d ever received on either side of the desk in a classroom. She thought, “It won’t pay much, but at least I’ll make a difference.” But teaching was full of its own kinds of gators — bureaucratic administrators and entitled parents would drag a teacher under and let a child’s education rot there with her. So to save the only one she could, she retreated to the bureaucracy of the forest. And then she quit the forest to farm the land. So when the young boy went missing near the banks of the Loxahatchee where she’d also gone to hike that day, folks pretty much assumed instinct overcame the logic, and she’d tried to wrestle a gator to save the boy. Or at least that’s how people were telling it from the cracked vinyl seats of Curley’s over their coffees and pancakes.
Every time I write a dream down, it becomes real. Solid. Like a planet, the story orbits me during the day. Often, I am aware of several of them orbiting at the same time. Each dream is its own world, and I am its sun. I may not be the center of the universe, but I am the star of my very own solar system.
Not everyone dreams as vividly and frequently as I do, obviously. Some may recall their dreams only infrequently. Still, even these occasional recollections can provide some fantastic source material for writers, artists and other creative thinkers. The trick is tapping in…
Sign-up for my free online Dream Writing workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom & Creative Gold. Wake up and dream on! Attend the live webinar Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 11 am PST. Or watch in replay.
I jogged in place in three-and-a-half feet of cool water, warming my muscles, while I watched the sun stream its golden light into a blue sky and fill the white clouds with iridescence. Foghat pounded from a big, plastic boom box, and I kept pace with the steady, driving beat of “Slow Ride” while the pool filled with bodies.
For the next hour, on the command of the water aerobics instructor, all thirty of us swooshed right and left with the kickboard in our arms or waved our arms overhead and bounced up and down in a series of jumping jacks or whatever it was we were told to do while 100.3 The Sound offered a continuing stream of classic rock.
But my attention was on the sky. Several women also turned away from the instructor and gazed toward the swollen, setting sun as we exercised.
“Beautiful,” said the woman next to me, acknowledging our shared experience.
While we kicked, lunged, jumped, and swooshed, the sky’s blue turned to striated pastels. The clouds became pink and then bruised slowly, first on their bottoms; then the purple seeped up, overtook the pinks, and swallowed the rosy glow in their scalloped tops. Quickly then, purple became ash.
“Such dramatic change,” I thought, my mind turning toward how I often resist and resent change, even when it comes in the span of years rather than a few minutes.
That me – earthbound and limited – seemed foolish and small now to this me, immersed in the pool and expanding awareness. I was more than in the moment.
Time stretched – and I with it – as the music pulled me into a non-specific nostalgia for a past era, the water and movement anchored me in the present, and the trajectory of the sun and its myriad sky effects, still working on the Western horizon, pulled me into the future. I was in five decades at once. Maybe more.
On my back, I held on to the lane line, scissor-kicking and gazing up into the now blue-black expanse of the sky where time seemed to reach out in all directions. I felt myself move with it, transcending mere presence. Weightless and timeless, I felt myself expanding toward omnipresence.
“This must be what it’s like to be God,” I thought, not with self-importance but with awe.
This side of heaven and still time-bound, class ended at 8. The bodies began to emerge from the pool. While people wrapped themselves in towels, I did a handstand. I turned a few somersaults. I stroked the surface of the radiant blue water, which had become more beautiful now that it twinkled in the pool lights, wanting to stay.
“It’s time,” I thought, making my way toward the steps. My fingers were water-logged. My bladder was full.
Back on the pool deck, I felt a different pull. Gravity.
As I picked up my towel and made my way toward the exit, everything felt twice as heavy as it had before I’d gotten in the pool. And I wasn’t ready to be burdened again – not physically with the weight of the world, nor mentally by the conventions of linear time and thinking.
“Nope,” I thought. “Not yet.”
Tossing my towel toward the bleachers, I took several large and eager steps and plunged back in.
I feel pregnant: abundant, full of life, physically crowded, moody, hopeful, expectant, and a little exhausted. I’m incubating ideas for my writing, my teaching, and my coaching business. All this from my bedroom…my bed, actually, since the 120 square feet is not enough to include a separate workspace. Some women get bed rest when they have difficult pregnancies. Not me, I’ve got bed work…and my baby is the work itself.
I’ve got notepads, pens, a lap top, books, and a coffee cup on a queen-sized pillow top. I’m propped against pillows with a cat curled up beside me as I write. My former office – my 200 square foot living room — is occupied by former baby, now my adult daughter, who has moved across the country and is living, working, sleeping on my couch. I’m thrilled as always by her arrival and take pleasure in her company, even though the apartment is a tiny place meant for one person with a day job, not two people, two cats, and a small business.
I know this is why literal pregnancies have limits — conception and growth are followed by delivery. We can only contain so much.
I know this is why I must sit down and write, too. The ideas, the words, and the emotions want to come. They are ready. They crowd me. If I do not make room for them, anxiety comes like labor pains.
The fullness is not always comfortable, but I remember not to complain. I learn to make space. This is what abundance looks like. My craft, my calling, my daughter and animals. My life full of warmth, tenderness, and purpose in this tiny, sunlit haven on the coast of Southern California.
All this is full. All that is full. From fullness, fullness comes. When fullness is taken from fullness, fullness remains. So say the Upanishads.
The nature of life: fullness — what flows in, how we expand and accommodate, what flows out and into the world.
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Early in the year, I signed up for Sam’s 6-week Get It Done online workshop because I’d stalled out in my vision for Wholly Creative. I had an idea of what I wanted to do — teach people how to integrate mind, body, and spirit in their creative lives — but I didn’t know how to clarify my vision and implement a plan. Over the months, I’ve heard Sam tell those of us that get creatively stuck or are dealing with a problem to “Make some art about it.”
She says it so often, it finally sunk in.
Only, this time it was personal: a friend with whom I’d had a close but difficult relationship re-appeared after a long (and peaceful) absence. My ambivalence about his return manifested as intrusive thoughts. Whether working or playing, I kept thinking about him, and I was losing both focus and peace of mind.
I took out some paper and a pen, and rather than write, I start to draw. When I was done half-an-hour or so later, I had grade-school art to show for my efforts, but I felt like I’d gone through top-notch psychotherapy. My divided feelings had become a firm resolve to maintain my distance from this dear, but toxic, friend. My feelings of hurt turned to empathy as I analyzed my drawing. I could see his pain and fear disguised as toughness and cool detachment, and I could see the power in my transparency and vulnerability. He was walled in; I was levitating.
Something in me was healed, and I didn’t even need any artistic skill to do it.
Skill, in fact, may have gotten in the way. If I’d tried to write about the problem, chances are my ego would’ve stepped in and start editing and offering opinions before the words made it to the page. But in a medium where I’ve got zero talent? My ego didn’t even think to speak up. It was out to lunch while it thought I was goofing around with kid stuff.
I wondered what it was like for Sam’s other clients who followed her advice.
Roxana Ramos, a client of Sam who lives in Peru and works in the visual arts — including paper and bookbinding — made some art with India ink markers and paper after she and her boyfriend had an big argument. Unlike my metaphoric rendering, Ramos expressed her feelings abstractly.
“Once my feelings had form, I was able to analyze them,” Ramos said.
She understood from the colorful loopy doodles that she’d had an imbalance that contributed to the argument: “I was too analytical, concentrated on my practical side, so when it was time to feel, I got overwhelmed and exploded.”
For her, another up side to this therapy is that it also contributes to her oeuvre and provides a source of income. (This blog’s featured image at the top is Ramos’s “Us”).
The simple creative practice has helped Ramos overcome overwhelm, the problem that brought her to Sam in the first place. Artists, especially those who are in full-time jobs while pursuing their art “on the side,” often face overwhelm. Other times, the problem stems from too many options. Whatever the cause, overwhelm shuts artists down.
MK Piatkowski, a Canadian singer, dancer, playwright and director, also conquered overwhelm. She quit her full-time job and set out on her own thanks to Sam’s advice to “make some art about it.”
“The practice reminded me that I needed to be an artist again,” Piatkowski explained. “So I’d work and then think, ‘Ok, dance break!’ or “Ok, now let’s do some writing.’”
Piatkowski also used the art of writing to remove a “grief block” that was keeping her from moving forward after the death of a friend, and she incorporated the work into her one-woman cabaret show-in-the-making. She also makes art to clarify her vision for One Big Umbrella, her business that serves theater professionals and creative entrepreneurs.
And it’s not just artists. Even cowgirls get the blues and can benefit from art-making.
Jane Sisam, a veterinary scientist in New Zealand working “to improve animal health and productivity through on-farm workshops, teaching and demonstrations” was having trouble naming her business. Her indecision, she said, “was just like being in a whirlpool, just going round and round, and not getting anywhere.” Sisam wrote and drew pictures about the problem, and finally settled on the name The Pink Cow Company, which satisfied her desire for a right-brained name that would help her business stand out and a feminine name that would represent the “ladies”– both the cattlewomen and the cows – that she works with.
Sam’s explanation for her directive is that art explains our feelings to us. “The other part, I think,” she says, “is explained by the immortal words of my friend Bill Baren [a coach who teaches The Art & Science of Conscious Success]: ‘Feelings just want to be felt.’ And once they know they’ve been felt, that energy can be released and resolved.”
For some, that resolution creates a domino effect. Unblocking in one area leads to movement in other areas. Says Piatowski,“I didn’t move forward in the business until I started writing the play.”
I know that for many years I underestimated the power of my emotions, trying to bulldoze through blocks with sheer will power rather than addressing their causes, which was both exhausting and unreliable. I’ve developed a deep respect for what I once saw as frivolous. Integrating mind, body, and spirit, also means integrating work and play, business and art.
Watch my free webinar Practical Magic for Writers to learn other approaches to move through resistance and enhance creativity or click on the button to get my guide to overcoming procrastination, How to Get Started and Keep Moving.