Embody your fantasy; fiction can manifest reality

Though I’ve never published fiction,  I have written fictional stories that have become real worlds and my characters are well known by many who interact with them as if they are real, live people.

Let me explain.

Back in the early 90s, I was trapped in a marriage to a man who had become physically and verbally abusive. We had only one car, and I used to stare out the window as he drove through West Palm Beach, fantasizing about what went on inside some of the buildings we’d pass. I couldn’t go inside. My husband, who was much older and made most of the money, controlled where I went physically.

But he couldn’t imprison my imagination. The colorful sign above the ArtsBar on Dixie Highway provoked my curiosity, and my imagination projected me into that dark bar where Bohemian creative types drank and conspired to make art together. Along Federal Highway, a plain beige one-story building announced short term rentals. From a post hung a plain white sign with Mi Casa written in brown script, inviting me in.

Into these spaces, I projected the characters of two young women — Calla, the uninitiated narrator who had just declared her independence from a suffocating marriage and Sybil,  a wild child neighbor who taught the narrator the ways of single, independent, creative living. I began to write the story down. And then it took on a life of its own.

Dorothy and I, photo by South Florida Sun-Sentinel staff photographer

Within a few months, enough money to leave my husband found its way into my hands. The local radio was giving away cash — extra if you knew the phrase that pays. I won the big prize — $1,000. That was surprising in itself, but what was even more magical was that I’d told my co-workers that I was going to win the contest that day.

With the money, I moved into a studio in a Palm Beach duplex that was maybe twelve feet square. It was so small, you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth over the sink at the same time. There was room for a bed, dresser, desk, and book shelf, which left only enough room to walk between the furniture. It was tiny, but it was mine!

Within a couple days, I discovered the best feature of the place: Dorothy, a wild child who would teach me the ways of single, independent, creative living!

I was Calla and she was Sybil. She’d studied theater, art, and poetry. She believed in the chthonian power of the arts and lauded chaos, darkness, and earth magic. Dorothy showed me all around Palm Beach, where she had been waiting tables and rubbing elbows with high society who appreciated smart women with quick wit and sharp tongues. She took me to the bars and arts institutions. She taught me the importance of a little black dress and red lipstick. She taught me to be shameless and brazen. Within the year, Dorothy and I had published our first art & literary magazine and were featured several times in the local press.

Then Dorothy took off for Europe with a backpack and I became a one-woman show. I performed poetry on pool tables, I started a poetry band. People started calling me “The Poetry Chick.” Eventually, I founded Delray Beach’s Dada Poetry Slam (Florida’s longest running slam, which just came in FIRST PLACE in National Poetry Slam Group Pieces! Yay team!). I traveled around the country performing my poetry and selling my chapbooks.

I wrote that new life into existence. It began with a vision — a fantasy — which I clarified and developed as I wrote. In the writing, the characters became more real, more embodied.

I understand that my desire for freedom — personal and creative — was within my power to choose.

The very first issue of our literary magazine

How on earth did I manifest Dorothy, though?

I don’t know. Perhaps the story was a pre-cognition. Or maybe I just got lucky. I can’t say for sure. But I do know that I have observed these synchronicities over and over in my life where my writing about things precedes them — new situations, events, and people.

I teach this aspect of Practical Magic for Writers in my Genius! workshop. I really am in awe of our ability to manifest the lives we want by imagining them and writing them into existence. That seems like magic to me.



Love letters from your writing

Dump that old nag, and get seduced…(so good, once wasn’t enough)

A body of work...

love letter

It just makes sense: we’d rather spend time with those people who love and support us than those that nag and belittle us.

But we often don’t think of our relationship with our writing in that way. So often when we have a writing project in progress, or even just in mind, we are hard on ourselves if we aren’t committing the time that it needs to get done. We feel guilty. We kick ourselves.

In essence, we are creating a relationship in which our poems/essays/stories/plays are nagging and whining for us to pay attention to them. And who wants to hang out with something like that?

Wouldn’t you be more likely to respond to an entreaty or seduction? My workshop participants who needed a little motivation signed up for a mid-week “kick in the ass” email. This is what they got instead:

Dear ___:

This is your story talking…

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Go with the flow!

After seeing how yoga changed my creative life, I had an idea! Why not teach a combination yoga and creative writing class! So I recently completed 200 hour yoga teacher training at Santa Monica Yoga. The training included anatomy, alignment, philosophy, and practical teaching experience. And now I’m leading a workshop called Creative Flow, which is a combination yoga and writing experience. Here’s the course description:

Consciousness meets craft in this course that uses ancient principles and practices to stimulate modern, creative writers of all genres.  Students will be guided through movement designed to develop focus, draw inspiration, stimulate imagination, and manifest creativity. Each session will include exercises on the mat and on the page as we focus on aspects of writing (character, imagery, voice, pace and rhythm) and develop creative attributes (compassion, awareness, discrimination and discipline). Participants share their new work in a format that allows for supportive feedback.  This course is for every body — stiff or limber, young or old, beginners or experienced practitioners.

If you’re interested, let me know. The current class is full, but I’ll be starting a new one in the spring. I’ll notify you with the details, if you’d like.

An approach to creative success

I teach a workshop on the relationship between shame and writing. One of the primary texts I used in my research was John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You. While this book has been consulted by many self-helpers for recovery from shame, it also contains some  insights into our psyche that inform and liberate our creativity.

A healthy sense of shame (humility), Bradshaw says, is basically knowing that we don’t know it all. When we think that we know things, our creativity shuts down. Creativity takes curiosity, and curiosity takes courage — after all, who knows where the unknown will take us? However, the three C’s alone aren’t enough, says Bradshaw:

A person with humility shame is open to new discovery and learning….When a person with curiosity and interest has discipline available to him [or her], [s]he has the right formula for creativity. The world is full of people with good ideas and fantasies that never come to fruition because they don’t have disciplined limits.

If you’re having trouble finishing a project or getting it started, it may help to ask yourself where you need more push. Do you need more courage to ask the hard questions and inquire further? Or do you really need more discipline in your creative life?  Or perhaps, is it possible you’ve lost interest in the project because you know it so well that your curiosity has waned and you really need to explore those aspects that are still a mystery to you?

Saying “I do”

I used to keep a note taped above my desk that said, “Don’t confuse excitement (temporary) with passion (commitment).”

I am a real sucker for novelty, and I tend to get caught up in the whirlwind of excitement that surrounds new ideas and pursuits. I put the reminder on a 4×6 slip of paper in sharpie marker when I realized that I had a tendency to chuck the old for the new, essentially cheating on my true love for the sake of a fleeting thrill.

It was a lot like any other infidelity. I’d begin to miss the writing, and I’d sheepishly return to it, hoping I’d be able to pick up where I left off. But it wasn’t that easy to re-establish the connection. It’s as if the words held a grudge and wouldn’t talk to me for a while. I spent a lot of time in acts of creative contrition, making up for being unfaithful to and neglectful of my writing.

Once I learned to recognize these two types of interest in things, I was better able to make decisions about how I want to spend my time. Of course, I still have other interests besides writing. I have my relationships with people that I nurture, and I enjoy cooking, sailing, hiking and yoga. And some of these activities have even become a regular part of my life. But I made a commitment to my writing because I recognized that I was passionate about it in a way that I could neither explain nor deny. I had to start seeing myself and my writing as one.

Essentially, I married writing and kept the other activities as friends.

I took the note down a few months ago when I moved across the country. I don’t need it any more. Having the reminder there for all that time helped me internalize its message, though, and keep me faithful to the one I love best.

What defines a writer?

You may have heard this old joke about the man who’d done many good deeds in his life but was defined by one terrible one. He bemoans his fate to a bartender:

You see that church over there? I built it with my bare hands but do they call me O’Reilly the Church builder? No!

You see that school over there? I taught there for 30 years but do they call me O’Reilly the Educator? No!

But you *$!# one goat….

I appreciate how this joke applies to us as writers, and I’m not just talking  egregious writerly offenses such as that of James Frey who screwed the goat when he fictionalizing his “memoir” A Million Little Pieces. Chances are he’ll be remembered for that rather than any other literary accomplishment.

Let O’Reilly serve as a reminder that there are many accomplishments we should celebrate, even in the face of failure. Instead of just criticizing our lapses in discipline, let’s also admire our lifelong devotion to craft. Let’s congratulate ourselves for the volumes we’ve written even if they haven’t been published. Let’s find the beauty in our descriptions as well as the flaws in the plot.

The joke also teaches another lesson: O’Reilly’s identity gives us permission to claim our own. After all, he molested only one goat, but how many times have we written?  Still, unless we’re claiming a paycheck for our words, we hesitate to announce to the world, “I am a writer.”

But what is the page if not a goat where we have passionately relieved ourselves?  Gross, I know, but I think it’s apt.

Switching gears redux

Wouldn’t it be nice if our brains could automatically switch from the rational (in our everyday and professional lives) to the creative (in our writing lives) without any sputtering or stalling? It seems that the brain has more of a standard transmission than an automatic one. That means we need to actively participate in switching gears.

I wrote about my own troubles getting the creativity in gear on my other blog today and I thought I’d share it here: Switching gears.

What do you do switch gears?

Principles & Laws (& curly blond hair)

Newton has laws & curly blond hair

Today, I’m on a roll. The momentum of my writing life proves Sir Isaac Newton right again (he came up with the bit about a body in motion staying in motion). Yup, Marya Summers the law abiding citizen here, doing what I can to uphold the laws of physics.

While still on the subject of science, I’d like to acknowledge that part of what got the old ball(point) rolling is the spirituality I find within my creativity. Julia Cameron’s “Basic Principles,” which I believed before I ever found them in The Artist’s Way, aptly expresses my own ideas on creativity. (Thanks, Julia, for doing the work of setting these out).

Basic Principles

1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure, creative energy.

2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life — including ourselves.

3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.

4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.

5. Creativity is G-d’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to G-d.

6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to G-d: good orderly direction.

8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but power changes to be expected.

9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.

10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.

Cameron has principles & curly blond hair

Principle #8 brings me back to Newton. His law states that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless the body is compelled to change. It’s good to remember for those moments when we’re giving things a push but nothing’s really moving. Maybe the friction that’s slowed things up is that the writing (or the writer!) is undergoing a new development.

There you have it: science and spirituality united in the writing life…and two philosophers united by hairstyles.

Moved to write

Stuck in a rut? I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between writing and movement. In my journal, I was considering how yoga had changed me during graduate school:

Also, stretching my lower back, particularly in downward dog, accessed something that no therapist ever had. It unleashed emotions I didn’t know I was holding. I spattered my blue rubber mat with tears. As my body was freed, so was my thinking. As my emotions were released, so was my creativity. I was astonished at the changes I saw in myself. Others noted the differences, too.

And then trolling the blogs today, I found a piece by Kelly Barnhill, who writes about how an accident injured her dominant leg and she began favoring the other.

And you know what’s weird, once I started favoring the left, my writing changed. I began thinking in images. My use of language became more intuitive, impulsive and rhythmic. Metaphor made more sense to me than explanation. I embraced surrealism, fabulism, the fantastic. I became this writer. And, barring any more car accidents, I’ll likely stay this writer.

So what are you waiting for, writers? If the physical impacts the creative, then don’t just sit there cursing your writer’s block or formulaic writing. Get moving in new directions, physically. You’ll find yourself in new places, creatively. Makes sense.

Parable of the truck driver poet

The other day, I was having lunch with my boyfriend Maynard and his life-long buddy, Robert. We were making small talk and enjoying the mole enchiladas at Frijoles on Aviation Boulevard near LAX when Robert, a commercial driver by trade, asked me if I’d take a look at some poetry he’d written.

Maynard’s fork stopped half way to his mouth. “I didn’t know you wrote poetry.”

“I’ve been writing poetry for years,” Robert said.

Writers and writing teachers often talk about demystifying the writing process. The idea is to make people feel comfortable with the idea that they, too, can be writers — that writing is not the sole realm of the elite or a chosen people. It’s an idea I’m solidly behind.

Robert, who has no formal writing training, is an inspiring example of how this is true. There’s a writer in each of us — we all have a story to tell — though many are reluctant to call themselves writers or even fess up to their writing habits. That opens the door to judgment.

But Robert also demonstrated that writing can be a spiritual practice: “It started as a sort of prayer. I was writing poetry when I was really upset. The thing is, by the time I’m finished, I’ve worked the problem out.”

Natalie Goldberg in her introduction to Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within tells the story of how writing became a source of spirituality in her life. Her Zen master wondered why she did a sitting meditation: “Why don’t you make writing your practice?” he asked her. “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you every place.”

The beautiful thing about writing is that it is unbounded by dogma as religion is. No matter their faith (or lack thereof), a person can enter writing as a way to communicate a prayer or wish, gratitude or yearning. It’s also an effective way to be fully present  in a moment. In fact, Julia Cameron made a name for herself advancing similar ideas in her groundbreaking, twelve-step writing program aimed at creative recovery, The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice.

But Robert already has a healthy relationship with his creativity. According to him, he’s got hundreds of poems that he’d like to put into a book.

You may wonder, “Are they any good?”

Without even reading them, I can assure you: they are divine.