Consider that your book has been secretly growing in the silence. Your subconscious is all over it, and you might have more of it on paper than you realize. Check for evidence of your story or your area of expertise in various corners of your life. Have you. . . .
Blogged about it?
Taught a class?
Discussed it with someone?
Gotten on a soapbox about it?
Been told you should write a book about it?
Started a draft?
Made notes on scraps of paper?
Dreamed about it?
Daydreamed about it?
Read other books like it?
Wished for a book that doesn’t exist yet?
If you want, you can start hunting and gathering. Or you can simply open your awareness to the clues. Observe that you are already writing a book. Is this book your usual suspect? Or has another book emerged to surprise you?
Flag Counter says this site’s visitors include people from 102 countries and 49 of the United States. Naturally, we all wonder, Who is missing??
So, hello, Alaska! How have you been?
How ironic that the next dream vacation on my list is an Alaskan cruise. I saw a travel film of that spectacular coastline with its colorful boats and homes, the calving of both ice and whales. (Wait–do whales calve in Alaska or someplace warmer? I’ve decided not to fact check that so I can keep the pun.) Maybe I’ll visit the Alaskans before they discover me. I know someone who owns a secluded hunting lodge in Alaska. I have friends who summer there–kayaking, cooking over a fire on the beach (or is it a river?) and covering their windows so they can sleep. (Is it cheating if they visit my site from there?) One Christmas, I passed along a YouTube video of “The Hallelujah Chorus” creatively presented by the schoolchildren of Quinhagak, Alaska. I know the capital is Juneau. (Then again, I know all the state capitals; I just proved it when my sixth grader’s teacher quizzed us parents. It helps that I grew up in eight states and a province of Canada.)
In other words, my understanding of Alaska is almost as limited as the Alaskans’ knowledge of me.
Arizona hosts winter snowbirds from many beautiful summer spots, but an Alaskan/Arizonan split would be hard to beat. I would love hosting retreats in Alaska all summer. And if you reversed the usual preference–so you’d winter in Alaska, and summer in Arizona–you’d spend so much time indoors, you could be a prolific writer. Either way, it’s one of those perfect pairs for a writer’s paradise.
So whenever you arrive here, Alaska, please comment. What do you want me to know about writing in Alaska?
The week of my birthday, I won a book! (The Berrett-Kohler newsletter I’ve recommended to you has a challenge, and I entered.) And because I was in transition, stepping from one year into my next, and even from one job toward another, I chose John P. Schuster’s The Power of Your Past. I’m still enjoying it, savoring its reflective exercises.
While many are preaching at us to live only in the present, John warns against amnesia. He agrees that we should live in today, but not without learning from yesterday and claiming its gifts. He says, “It is about gathering important insights, and the wisdom that comes before informed action.” He advocates that we not misuse the past, either romanticizing/ minimizing the past, nor getting stuck in victimization, but instead, that we reflect on our past experiences and mine them to refine our identity, remember our dreams, and clarify our choices.
John outlines a process to “Recall, Reclaim, and Recast” the past. He recognizes that not all minds work alike, so he offers graphic organizers for several approaches. He has us identify the settings of our lives and consider the places where we did get stuck (what he calls compressions) and where we found encouragement or achievement (his evocations). That alone is a great start toward understanding where we have healthy relationships with our pasts and where there’s more treasure to be found.
And another gift for me: the book is well-edited and well-designed. Too often I get distracted by my own editing brain. So far, I’ve found only two suggestions. (1) I would left justify epigrams, instead of right. (2) I’d simplify some of John’s compound, complex questions. For example, here’s the first question: “How well do I integrate the gifts of my body, my mind, my will, my feelings, my sense of play, my enthusiasm for learning, in a way that helps me to be a well-balanced person?” (Say what?) So I wrote out the question, realized the point was whether I’m well balanced, and felt relief that I wouldn’t need a week to answer it.
This book is the perfect length–just enough examples for memories to bubble up, accompanied by simple processes to inspire reflection and insightful writing. It’s warm, wise, and welcoming.
Don’t skip the footnotes. I always read them–academic editor training is forever present–and I like to read notes all at once, after I’m well into a book. John’s footnotes are the perfect blend of citations, additional readings, and conversation.
The Power of Your Past made a fabulous birthday gift. And yes, I’m already beginning the new job, the new editing projects, and one of my favorite years so far.
I realized today how burned out I’ve become in the last few weeks. New quarter, new classes, new students, new preps, new circadian schedule, forecast of 116 degrees and no rain, no summer vacation. When students whined, I felt their pain all too well, and my short fuse required amends. Already, life had been warning me so strongly of impending burnout that three of the four classroom projectors I had touched in the past week had refused to shine, and today, the fifth worked barely long enough before burning out. Colleagues comforted me, assuring me that vulnerability is wonderful for my growth as a teacher, and my students received me better in that vulnerability. The spill gates had opened and I came home weepy.
My son is writing a musical, Invincible, in which he explores vulnerability. (He’s wise beyond his years. And we were discussing it way too late last night.) So maybe I can receive the message now?
So here is the unvarnished truth: I came home, looked at my computer, and resented my blog for the sixth blogging day in a row. I hadn’t even been here in a week. I wasn’t being consistent anymore, felt I’d lost my stride, and had nothing I wanted to say in public. Vulnerability schmulnerability. (There, Drew, we’ve finally rhymed it.)
Here I’ve been writing all year to encourage your writing fluency and confidence–and my own had fizzled out.
I did check e-mail this evening, where I found several congratulating comments on this recognition. It could not have been better timed. This challenge itself has been a blessing in my life, and today, when I hit that wall and wondered whether I should quit, there you were, handing me a cup of water and cheering me on. Bless you all!
I look forward to visiting the other nine. Maybe one of them is as thirsty as I was today.
Listening to Krista Tippetts’ interview with musician Bobby McFerrin, it first surprised me that he ever considered joining a monastic order, and that the main attraction was the silence! He also loved the scheduled cycles of each day, the listening for God. Then it made sense.
He describes himself as a “conveyer of song. I think of myself as a catcher of songs . . . . to grab it, and pull it down, and have it come out of my mouth.” He distinguishes this process from an attitude of performing, which he recommends avoiding, even if you’re “catching song” from a stage.
He’s known for his improvisational freedom, but did you know he practices it? He recommends setting a timer for ten minutes. Then open your mouth and sing, and don’t stop, even when your body screams to stop.
That works for writing, too. Set a timer for a little longer than usual, and keep going even when everything in you screams to stop. You can work up to longer sessions and greater improvisational freedom.
(I watched the unedited version, and I plan to listen to the edited version as well–not to miss the things that will be trimmed for radio length, but for the music they’ll add. There’s another great way to look at revision!)
Does it feel as though you’re always starting over? I’m beginning new projects, new rounds of old projects, new teaching quarter. Therefore, clients and students are doing the same; some students have even taken the leap to begin or return to their higher education. Their stories and their dedication inspire me.
Beginnings take courage, so I offer this favorite passage from John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us:
“Perhaps beginnings make us anxious because we did not begin ourselves. Others begat us. Being conceived and born, we eventually enter upon ourselves already begun, already there. Instinctively we grasp onto and continue within the continuity in which we find ourselves. Indeed, our very life here depends directly on continuous acts of beginning. But these beginnings are out of our hands; they decide themselves. This is true of our breathing and our heartbeat. Beginning precedes us, creates us, and constantly takes us to new levels and places and people. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning. More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could. Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over” (2).
He also warns, “There are journeys we have begun that have brought us great inner riches and refinements; but we had to travel through dark valleys of difficulty and suffering. Had we known at the beginning what the journey would demand of us, we might never have set out. Yet the rewards and gifts become vital to who we are. Through the innocence of beginning we are often seduced into growth” (3).
Isn’t it great we aren’t in it alone? We support each other in our beginnings and our risk-taking, and here we are! Before we know it, we’re completing something and beginning again. Wishing you “great inner riches and refinements.”