Meditation on devotion; Mapping a path to the divine

If you’re like me, you try to live in alignment with what is true and do what is right, even as you acknowledge that this may be different for everyone. You feel your way around topics like divinity, devotion, and grace. You try to touch lightly, with all the gentleness of tending an open wound or a newborn.

If you ask me to explain God, I’ll tell you it’s the Universal Energy that makes seeds sprout, that holds protons and neutrons in the nucleus while electrons orbit around them, that creates atomic bonds to form stuff, and that otherwise structures the world as we experience it. As a feminist, I’ll never use a masculine pronoun to refer to God. And as a devotee of reason, I’ll never claim that this God-stuff that holds the universe together as it generates, degenerates, and recycles matter has any interest in me personally. And I certainly won’t anthropomorphize this Force. Ultimately, my mind and language are finite things, I’ll say, and God is infinite, so I’ll never be able to really understand or explain God.

This is what Rational Me knows about God. Rational Me has gone to books to clarify ideas about the divine, to trace my fingers along the well-worn maps of other travelers, which is how I view these texts.  Rational Me is helpful. Up to a point.

But sometimes she gets in the way. So I have learned to find my way by observing her. Reading the Bhagavad Gita, Rational Me had an immediate, clear opinion about the central issue on Bhakti (devotional) yoga (Chapter 12). Arjuna asks Krishna, Which is best way to unite the personal consciousness with Supreme Consciousness  – either devoting oneself to God with attributes (manifest) or without (unmanifest)?

Rational Me sided with the unmanifest form, pure in its nothingness and everythingness, in its potential. Rational Me was irked by Krishna’s answer that it was better to meditate on the manifest form of God (Krishna) rather than the unmanifest (Brahman). It’s easier, He explains, for embodied beings to devote themselves to an embodied God. In addition to thinking Krishna’s answer was self-serving, Rational Me got a little rush of self-satisfaction. “Maybe it’s easier for other people,” she thought, “Yeah, those other people who take their metaphors too literally.”

RM gloated a while – through a few readings of the chapter, actually. And then it hit me! (Because I was observing the ego in RM.)

Almost daily as I have made long drives through Los Angeles and Orange counties, this feminist talks out her frustrations, fears, and dreams with an invisible dude who has the power to help her with stuff – even if it’s mostly finding peace and gratitude when things aren’t going my way. I talk things out – OUT LOUD, mind you – and my unseen buddy ribs me about how we’ve been through this before. And I nod and chuckle to a voice only I can hear. Many days it’s just me and God: on the road together, yucking it up about what a dumbass I am, as I live out the “God is my co-pilot” cliché.

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This is me at BhaktiFest, a yoga festival in Joshua Tree, CA.

But there’s more: As with other friends, I’m disappointed when God’s plans don’t include me, and I’m irritated when his plans for me aren’t what I had in mind. Sometimes, the relationship feels really dysfunctional. Sometimes, I’ve blamed him. There are times, I get busy and don’t call. But when I’m really in a crisis, I can count on him to answer. Even if it’s been a long while since we’ve talked, he’s kept up with what’s going on and knows how to guide me. When I am grateful, accepting and compassionate, I sense that I am in good hands (not my own) in this journey from birth to death. This is how Intuitive Me experiences God.

As odd as it seems, rational thought doesn’t entirely govern my beliefs. Rational Me doesn’t know the map, no matter how many of them she reads.

This split between my thinking (abstract; unmanifest) and my action (concrete; manifest) seems to speak to the question raised in Chapter 12. While I can be in awe of the beautiful complexity of God in either form, it’s easier to be in a state of loving devotion to a manifest form that loves me back. I might add, that my devotion is absent when I am self-involved.

As a person who has changed her mind a lot, I’m a bit of a commitmentphobe. This is especially true of dogma. I like to explore the spiritual terrain of religions and even set up camp and learn their practices, but I have never settled on one. If anything I draw on all I’ve experienced in mapping my own route to the divine.

One of the things that I love about yoga is that I can, without having to worship a literal deity, still love “God,” unite with It- — whatever It is. I don’t have to define it because I directly experience It. Believing in a Source/Force that underlies the apparent world –creative, sustaining, and destructive – I feel what a small pixel of the big picture I am. It makes it easier to surrender the outcome of my actions, which I cannot control because more things and bigger things also impact the outcome.

It seems like this is my personal experience of Krishna’s counsel that if you cannot observe the Vedic rituals (which I can’t), then one should cultivate knowledge (which I have been); or better yet, meditate on the Supreme Consciousness (which I do often); or best of all, in devoted work, surrender the fruits of action and achieve peace of mind (which I also do often). Krishna closes chapter 12 saying that is in equanimity (toward comfort and discomfort, toward friend and foe, etc) that one becomes dear to him.

Equanimity: maybe this is what I am sensing, rather than indifference, when Rational Me explains God. If so, when I am equanimous, my consciousness is aligned with the Supreme consciousness, and I experience union, which is what the word yoga means.

As I experience equanimity through surrender, I achieve that peacefulness in which I feel loved, and that engenders love in return. And therein are the seeds of bhakti; that is to say, devotion.

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Woodland magic and writing spirits

When I returned home this week from the Pacific Circle Revival, a pagan campout that celebrated midsummer, I brought back something unexpected.

I had made my camp on the top of Celtic Hill overlooking a wilderness of trees and mountains. Yucca trees stood like blooming spears among the pines. On the ground, lizards scampered. In the trees, blue-feathered birds alighted. On top of that hill, an oak sheltered my tent, and a nearby boulder became my altar to Saraswati, goddess of learning, arts, and creativity.

Part festival and part retreat, the Revival was a gathering of dozens of other people during the three days in Angeles National Forest for workshops and rituals. Though I came to the event alone and didn’t know anyone when I arrived, I was never lonely. I had lots of company when I descended from my camp. Several hours a day, I spent in the company of other people learning about nature and practicing magic.

Most of my time, however, was spent happily by myself among the trees and rocks as I talked to nature and its spirits. I was happy apparently alone because I didn’t feelalone. I had a community of people, nature, and the supernatural all around me.

By Sunday, I was so content that I even stayed after most other people left. As I heard engines start and people saying their goodbyes as they drove out of the campgrounds, I sat in front of my altar watching the sun descend in the sky and talking to Saraswati, feeling more connected than ever.

Mountain top BandidoAt home, my writerly independence can feel isolating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed for a spiritual and creative partner. So many times. Too many to count. Despite all my many requests, I am single. I live alone. I work alone.

My prayers have felt unanswered.

On that hill, with a breeze blowing in from the west, I asked the goddess how to know her better, how to please her. I wrote a little, because that is what she asks of me.

I drove home slower than necessary as I descended the mountain, soaking the last bit of magic in. Once home, I realized that my prayers had been answered. I just hadn’t recognized it. I had expected a human partner, but my spiritual and creative partner is Spirit itself, embodied as the goddess Saraswati. I am not living and working alone when I take the time to bring her in on my projects and when I stay in relationship with her.

Turns out, the weekend in the mountains was like a magical couple’s retreat for me and Saraswati.

Set aside some time to romance your own creativity. Light a candle. Make some magic. I invite you to consider which of your prayers have been answered but you haven’t recognized, too. Perhaps you will sit with that for a while, and then write about it as I have. Remember: gratitude has a magic of its own.

Learn more about writing and magic in my Magic, The Elements & Writing YouTube video.  Or stop by Wholly Creative and learn more.

 

Moon Writing and Magic

Monday honors the Moon. Make its energy work for you by understanding what sort of work you should be doing:

On Mondays, know that you can begin a great, productive week by honoring the feminine energy of the day. Be receptive to what presents itself and reflect on those aspects of your work that could be done better or with more depth.

I wrote more extensively on the topic in my Wholly Creative blog  post today, which discusses more about the magic of moon energy.

You might even honor its energy by incorporating the moon in whatever it is you are writing today.

If the idea of combining magic and writing appeals to you, check out this 13-week online workshop.

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Dirty Lies that Keep You from Writing Magic

I’m so tired of all the glorification of suffering that seems to go hand-in-hand with writing. The idea that one must suffer for her art has been ingrained in us. It doesn’t help that some of our literary icons have told us its true.

“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.” E.B. White 

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Perhaps it’s good to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he is happy?” Aldous Huxley

Even if you’re not familiar with these quotes, it’s likely the notions that writing = hard and that suffering = better writing are some of your core beliefs because they’ve been repeated so often.

The truth is, as writers, we all hit creative blocks or need solutions to a craft problem. And, yes, writing takes effort. But we don’t have to suffer.

I did it, anyway, because I didn’t know better. After 10 years as a journalist, columnist and poet, I just couldn’t handle the suffering my writing life caused me. My writing depleted me. My failures, whether perceived or real, demoralized me.

Even though I’d made deep sacrifices for my art, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I quit my column. I stopped performing. I stopped publishing. I knew I either had to quit forever or I had to find a new way of doing things.

Marya yoga writingIn a commitment to this new life, I moved across the country to California, and I began cultivating a yoga practice that changed everything.

The teachings of yoga philosophy helped me with my relationship with writing. (I published a paper on this in a book on innovations in teaching writing. Read it here.) Soon, I saw that my yoga practice was a magical tool, too. And as I continued my quest for a relationship with my writing that felt supported, purposeful, and nourishing, I recognized the principles that I now teach in Practical Magic for Writers workshops.

Imagine a writing life…

  • that allows you to feel connected, rather than isolated.
  • that fills you with purpose, inspiration and joy.
  • that nourishes you, instead of depleting you.
  • that contributes to the well-being of you and others.
  • that helps you realize your best and highest self.

I have a FREE upcoming webinar where you can find out more: Intro to Practical Magic for Writers. You can attend live or watch it in replay.

 

 

Magical Confessions of a Poetry Chick(en); or How to Manifest What Your Heart Desires

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.

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Learn more at PracticalMagicForWriters.com.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

What it really means to be “woke”

There’s no mistake how much most of us enjoy our stories. Streaming our favorite films and shows is a national pastime that many of us can’t resist. The thrills, the romance, the suspense — all of this adventure, we experience from a safe distance. We know it’s “not real” so even when it’s dramatically tragic, we aren’t too concerned about how the death of our favorite character is going to impact our actual lives.

woke-up-v1-1312At night, similarly, we enter the theater of dreams, seeing stories unfold that terrify, delight, and amaze us. When we wake, we may remember them and wonder about them, but mostly, we shake them off because they aren’t “the real world.”

Then again, lots of what goes on in the real world, what we believe to be true and act on, is nothing but projection, too — just a great drama invented in our minds, a story we made up to give meaning and purpose to the world. It’s amazing how when we decide that something is true how the entirety of reality shapes itself to support that belief.

This condition of our minds is exactly why magic is so effective in producing the results we want. Like films, dreams, and our waking projections, magic creates meaning of the things in our world, attributing significance to them and acting accordingly.

Embracing magic has been a process of waking up within the dream of my life. The more awake I become the more I am aware that there’s no real difference between “reality” and “magic,” except that in “reality,” I am accepting the conditions of my life as somehow less mutable and more imprisoning than those of my imagination. In “magic,” instead of being at the mercy of an external world, I see that I get to choose what I’d like my world to look like. I get to create it intentionally, just like a writer and director would do for a film, except that the movie is my life.

Lots of people stay asleep within their dream. Mostly, I think this is because they don’t realize that they are dreaming. When most people say they are “woke” what they mean is that they are aware of some underlying social or political system at work in our culture. But this what is called in sleeping dreams “false awakening.” They’re just dreaming that they have woken.

To really be woke is to understand how much power we have, that we are the dreamer and that we can change the dream. That is we can actively change the projection that we generally and passively accept as “reality.”

dribbble_-_owlOf course, this takes lots of work. It takes work at things people will often dismiss as frivolous and impractical. Working with the subtle forces of deities (which is to say “archetypes”) and of our desires and aversions is the stuff of magic that wakes us up inside the dreams of our lives so that we are lucid and empowered, and we recognize the significance of everything.

This is what I focus on in the Genius workshop of the Practical Magic for Writers series. We work with the mind’s powers — of imagining, of creating story, of dreaming and believing and knowing — as we write.  I have found writing to be the strongest magical tool I know of to shape and create reality. It’s allowed me to wake within the dream and to dream wide awake.

 

The not-so-great disappearing act; what to do when you lose your creative mojo

When the magic is gone, everyone loses.

At a creativity conference I attended in Los Angeles, a woman came to the microphone for guidance. She was beautiful in a way that might spark jealousy in some. She was slender and tan. A scarf was slung effortlessly around her neck in a way that made her casual outfit more relaxed yet more stylish: a sign of affluence. But despite the money and the beauty, there was something pitiful about her.

“I feel like I lost my mojo,” she said sadly into the microphone.

She said she was a writer, a life coach, and public speaker. She had degrees in nursing and an MFA in writing. But the accomplishments were no match for her depression.

“I don’t even know what I want to do anymore.”

Watching her, I realized that a person can seemingly have it all and still not have “it,” that ineffable inner power that animates us and fills us with dynamic energy and creativity.

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Mojo is flowing… must be the water.

I had been in a similar state before. I had gotten so busy with the mundane demands of my life that I wasn’t tending to my creative flame. That’s why I started working Practical Magic for my writing, because I needed my mojo back. I needed the spark that made me feel excited and alive and let my writing life thrive.

Using the principles of magic I began to  integrate my everyday, practical life with my creative life, and my mojo returned. I became more aware of the inspiration and support that surrounds me so that I felt awake, alive, and magically charged.

When the woman at the creativity conference starting paying attention to the nudging of the universe to write about boundaries and faith, she came alive again, too. She found her mojo.

Pay attention. What has the universe been nudging you to write about? What themes keep coming up? These meaningful coincidences are what psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity” and are the stuff of magic.

 

 

 

 

Writing as spell casting — the untold power of your words

People’s eyebrows do The Wave when I tell them what I’m up to.

They seem intrigued (or maybe confused?) by the yoga-magic fusion that I practice in my writing. Many times I will have met someone in the more mainstream yoga world and when they find out that I practice magic, I watch their eyebrows do their thing.

Yoga and magic aren’t that different, really. They both work with subtle forces to bring about change. They both believe in the power of words.

magicYoga philosophy holds not only that words are powerful and important but that language and sound is sacred. The sacred syllable Om brought everything into existence. As writers, our letters create sounds that spell words into existence. We manifest where there was nothing. They don’t call it “a spell” for nothing.

Hello? Magic!

I’ve seen this sort of spelling happen over and over again in my life, where my writing meditations manifested new things and often a new world. In fact, these were often things beyond my wildest dreams.

Once during a waxing moon, I cast a spell for knowledge (I teach this spell in a writing workshop). It was a spell that had chosen me – that is to say, I had chosen the spell randomly allowing The Universe to tell me what work I needed to do in my life to become more aligned with my True Self and True Purpose.

In the seven days that I worked the spell, sitting in the roots of an old tree and recording its wisdom, not much happened except that my journal pages began to fill with smart observations expressed in poetic language. The last day, I finished the spell and I thought, “Well, I got some good writing.” And I thought that was it.

But that night, which also happened to be a lunar eclipse, I got more.

spelll cast

The phone rang. It was a call from my then-teenaged daughter who lived with her father, and he had done all he could to keep her from me and drive a wedge between us. But that night, my daughter was asking to come live with me.

Talk about knowledge! From that point on, I learned what it was like to be a daily parent rather than a weekend one. I learned that all the sacrifices that I had made to stay in my daughter’s life hadn’t been for naught. I learned to forgive myself for being young and poor and unable to fight for her when I left her father.

But it wasn’t just me who gained knowledge. My daughter did, too. Her studies, which had been stunted by depression in her father’s home, began to improve. With hope for something more than going to the local community college, she also began studying for the SAT. Based on the knowledge she demonstrated on that test, the University contacted us to say they would admit her if she had another semester of excellent grades.

And the magic continued to expand over the months.  When we got the call six months later saying she was accepted to University, we literally jumped up and down and cried tears of joy.

What unfolded – the sudden reunion with my daughter and her rapid re-routing of her life course – was nothing short of a miracle. And that’s what a spell does for us: it gives us what otherwise seems too difficult or impossible. And this is just one instance of countless others where writing magic changed my life for the better.

It’s why I will always practice what I call Practical Magic for Writers. Not only do I manifest new writing, but I manifest wonderful life changes.

And just in case you were wondering, I shaped the writing from my spell for knowledge into a lyric essay, and it was recently accepted by Tiferet Journal of Spiritual Literature. Once set in motion, the forces of magic are unstoppable.

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Magic and Writing make me feel pretty unstoppable. I feel like a literary Wonder Woman.

Between a rock-paper-scissors and a hard place: on writing, performance anxiety, and winning!

We writers can get pretty weird about our work. Depressed. Anxious. Neurotic. Self-obsessed. Hysterical, even.

If writers had enough money for therapy, the mental health field would be booming. But instead what we have is an entire readers market dedicated to writers who write about writing and the struggles we writers face.

Ours aren’t your normal professional struggles. You’ve never seen your plumber or retail manager having a nervous breakdown about a deadline or a line that wouldn’t scan. Lawyers don’t wake up and go, “Maybe I should get out of these pajamas and get a real job?” And no one other than a writer really understands. It’s just part and parcel of the gig.

My students at the community college think I’m nuts because I’ve given myself life-long writing assignments, often with little or no pay. Like this blog here that I ‘m writing at nearly 11 pm on a weeknight after I spent the whole day writing to finish up a year-long project, my Practical Magic for Writers book.

Before I even turned in my final grades and declared school out for the summer, I’d taken on another deadline: Write Club, a head-to-head writing competition that is billed as literary bloodsport. There are chapters in Chicago (where it started), Atlanta, and here in Los Angeles. Basically: Two writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes.

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Marya Summers defending “Overt” at Write Club Los Angeles, the Bootleg Theater

Contestants get a week. I was assigned “Overt” and my opponent, “Covert.”

In a nutshell it was a crazy week: I sat for full days with a lap top heating my thighs. I wrote decent poetry, then terrible prose, and finally decided to stick with poetry.  A day before the competition, I only had a solid 2 minutes of stuff I liked. Writing five more minutes of poetry – good poetry — in just the space of two days? When I hadn’t written a poem in like a dozen years? Um, hella hard.

The night before the competition, I sat in my meditation group with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a giant rock was sitting on my chest and like I needed to run for a very long time. The next day, the day of the main event, I got up early and took the run my body craved, though I hadn’t run in months, and then I wrote some more. The anxiety wouldn’t let go. Nothing I did would shake it. I kept lowering the stakes:

1) It doesn’t have to be a good poem, just the best you can do.
2) It doesn’t have to be your best, you just have to have something finished.
3) It doesn’t have to be finished, just read what you have and have fun.

But the anxiety wouldn’t let go no matter what I told myself. Even while I was trying to have fun. It didn’t soften until I got on stage. Stage fright has got nothing on real anxiety — in the face of the former, the latter wasn’t even noticeable. The anxiety evaporated somewhere in the stage lights, I think. Just like that.

And then I won.

Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory
The hard-earned Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory

The moral of the story isn’t “anxiety = winning.” Not at all.

The point isn’t “anxiety = pointless, so why am I so silly?” either.

My point here is that anxiety is something that I’ve learned that I just have to live with sometimes; writing and performing have seldom been comfortable for me. Facts are, it’d be nice, but I don’t write to be comfortable. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. Sometimes being me is pretty fabulous, and someone gives me a trophy or a paycheck for it.

You know how beauty queens and glamour girls say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful?” I think what they are saying is about perseverance – that sometimes things are really uncomfortable. Whether it’s a girdle or performance anxiety, it’s hard to breathe, but you tough it out anyway.

Writing is hard. For me. For lots of writers. For those who say it comes easily, well, I really can’t say I like them much. Nor do I trust them. I think they are probably lying.

But what we have, friend, is intestinal fortitude. It’s a Fire Element quality — much like anxiety, which is also the result of excessive Fire energy — that I discuss in my workshops and book Practical Magic for Writers, which will be finished this summer.

Summer: the season of fiery solar energy! What better time to summon our inner creative warrior? Have writing anxiety or need some other writing help? Hit me up. Seriously. I luuuuuvvvvv to help.