Why Every Brilliant Thing Is Brilliant

“Look with new eyes,” I tell the writers I coach. “See through the eyes of Dream Kid. Then write about what you see.”

Dream Kid is that hope-filled inner dreamer, blissfully engaged in any given moment. She is taken with wonder and notices the intricate, quirky details of everything.  As adults, however, we are rushed, challenged, stressed, and injured by the grown-up problems in our lives, and we seldom take time to hang out with these micro-joys. As responsible, critical-thinking people, we lose the tiny miracles that make up a life.

The play, Every Brilliant Thing, takes us by the hand and brings us back. We follow a charming, deep-feeling, curious, caring, seven-year-old who finds a way out of painful adult-induced problems—by concocting a list of all the brilliant things in life. He hopes to convince his suicidal mom that life is worth living. With each addition to the list, he cultivates this magical quality of seeing.

It’s a difficult quality to describe, this way of being absorbed in the minute and wondrous. And so it kind of boils down to things. A kitten, a newborn, a sunset . . .

Wait, this kid’s list is much better:

A ham and mayo sandwich without the ham

The word ‘plimpf’

Water fights

Gatefold sleeves

How long can this list get? What will it take to keep growing the list when the hopeful child becomes a troubled adult?

Isaac Lamb, who performs Every Brilliant Thing at Portland Center Stage, is warm, disarming, convincing as both a kid and the grown-up he becomes. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role; he invites audience participation in such a genuine way.

There’s a moment when he launches into a bongo-drum induced dance, so uninhibited and goofy that you can’t help grinning for joy. He runs offstage with a quick, “Talk amongst yourselves!” grabs a breather and swig of water, then rushes back without skipping a beat: “What’d you talk about?”

Spontaneity is present whenever we look with new eyes. It invites concrete, interesting noticings. It reminds us to live in the moment, which is the only way we get through the really hard stuff.

Hard stuff like family problems, suicide, depression.

“That the list could combat hardwired depression was incredibly naïve,” the performer tells us. And yet,  it offers a gateway to wonder. We can examine the most difficult things along with the most brilliant, seeing the wonder when we take them apart, moment by moment.

It’s what we do when we tell our stories.

It’s what writers do. And all of us who are keeping our Dream Kid alive.







Breaking Silence, Blogging Mindfully

b 5-instagram-collage

I have been deciding what to say about not saying anything.

Just over a week ago, I was immersed in silence. I didn’t post, text, email, or make a phone call for 11 days. For ten days I did not speak.

The silence was part of a 12-day meditation course, and the silence was not the hardest thing. Facing the self was the hardest thing. I witnessed, close up, the false worlds I have built around myself, for myself, through myself. Just noticing those worlds loosened them, threw them out of orbit. I am grateful to feel closer to reality, to spiritual reality, to what is real and true at my deepest level.

And I wrestled with sharing/not sharing. It was all so close to home.

What I learned over the course: I am okay if I am not heard. It won’t destroy me. I experienced a beauty and a release, letting life take over, humbly recognizing that my words do not propel the universe.

Returning home, no longer craving being heard, I considered whether I should quit blogging altogether.

I thought of Tad. When I first met this sweet, wise friend, I was astounded by Tad’s communication skills. I was surprised that English wasn’t Tad’s native language.

A year later, Tad’s speech changed. Where there had been the slightest hint of an accent, there were now round, rolling R’s and thick, festooned consonants. It took me several minutes to understand Tad clearly.

“You speak differently,” I said. “Why?”

“I was masking my accent,” said Tad. “I decided to speak without that layer of effort, and say the words as they wanted to come out. Basically, I quit worrying what others think.”

This beautiful, brave transformation inspired me. I, too, want to show up in the world without the concerted, continuous effort of masking my natural way of communicating.

And this is why I decided to go ahead and break my silence.

I realized, this is why I blog–and why I write, for that matter.

I am committed to being myself, to showing up, and offering the gifts I’ve received. What others do with those gifts isn’t up to me.

I’ll say it again: I don’t have to be heard. I may often be misunderstood. It’s okay.

I discovered a few tips for keeping my ego’s false realities at bay. Here are Five Ways to Blog Mindfully. They work for handling the online confusion of self . . . and I think they also work for putting yourself out there, in any form.

  1. Remember An Audience is Not Needed

An audience is lovely, but I am just as happy, connected, and validated in my creative experience if you, the reader, are not there.

2. Connect with the True Self, not the Online Persona

It’s that saying about not believing your own press. In some strange way, the ego hooks into the person online, or in a photo, or even in the mirror. The brain gets hung up on this appearance,  whether the images are positive or negative. And no matter how I try to be authentic in social media or in a blog, that person online is never who I am. Something is always missing.

typewriter at The Bookstore

3. Accept A Small Audience

I wrote in Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough, “smallness can connect to happiness.” Allowing my audience to be as small as it needs to be, I can focus on those few people who need my message, the readers and creatives who find inspiration in the things I share. I’d rather deeply connect with one or two folks than “mask my accent” for the whole world, and have everyone fall in love with a me who isn’t me.

4. Relax and Let Down My Guard

So once I’ve gotten clear on who I really am, and what will and won’t make me happy (a mega-following appears to have this power, but in the end will leave me wanting more, always more), then I can cut loose. After all, some people won’t be paying attention, and others won’t get me anyway . . . so what the hell? I might as well say what I want to. And keep enjoying the words that spring forth, even when I seem to have no words.

5. Focus on the Giving

The writer Robert Benson taught me this. In the insightful little book, The Echo Within, he explains why he places twelve names on the wall in front of his desk. “That way while I am working, we can keep an eye on each other.” Instead of making cyberspace or the planet or a bookstore crowd his audience, he focuses on giving to these few humans. His trick is to “Keep writing sentences to them and for them. They are the ones to whom I have been given and who have been given to me for this particular bit of my work.”

feeding gray jay

And so, I freely re-enter the work of words. Knowing I can return to the silence whenever I need to. Remembering there is so much more to this business of being human.

NaNoWriMo and Places of the Imagination

I’m taken aback at my sudden directive to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d planned to do some work on my novel, but in a last-minute gut decision I committed to fully enter the world of my imagination.

And I’m glad for it.

I put so many demands on myself that I don’t give free reign to projects that take my imagination full tilt. I’ll create, but I’m wary of my time. I’m wary of losing control. Working in bits and pieces helps me feel sane.

You can’t create art that astounds you if you’re trying to stay in control.

What I’m discovering is that digging into a world of my imagination is renewing my energy, not using it up. I’ve had it on my list, for weeks, to write this Fire By Night post, for example.

And I’ve also longed for more art. I’m doing that too.

IMG_0195You’ve got to let go, meld with the process, and move where the creating takes you.

And so I’ve rearranged my schedule temporarily in order to lose control.

How about you? Are you on a wild ride of creating, or are you trying to keep everything neat and tidy, and same as always, so you can maintain certainty?

If you’d like to chat in person when I come out of NaNoWriMo hiding, please join my visits as a guest author on Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 at Another Read Through Books in Portland; and as a guest poet on Saturday, November 29, at 7 pm at Mon Ami Coffee and Crepes in Vancouver.

Art on Exhibit – Gallery 360

I’m tickled pink – and blue, and gold, and scarlet – to have my  watercolor and collage at Gallery 360 this month.  I hope you’ll come and enjoy the stunning work of many Clark County artists and mosey on over to my three pieces, too. Here’s the announcement post card:

G360 201407 Spirit front rgbG360 201407 Spirit back rgb

The Creative Process: Station Four

revision village
Welcome to Station Four in the Creative Process!

Revision Village is where you revise, edit, and polish your work. You’ve got to be ready to bustle about in town, make connections, and to make decisions.

Just today, in Wildfire Writing Master Class, ten writers looked at drafts and considered options for revision and editing. Questions arose such as:

  • Do I need more about this character? Here, where I’ve just touched on her past, should I delve more deeply?
  • What happened in this paragraph, where my readers/listeners got confused? How can I create a transition that helps them understand where I’ve taken them?
  • How can I make the most of this beautiful sound at the end of the line in my poem? I see that I’ve added extra syllables and interrupted the lyricism. What can I rearrange so that I land on my favorite word?

Week after week, these writers are visiting their work and making decisions. They’ve created in full-on creativity mode, without gumming up the process with all these kinds of questions. They’ve followed their thinking to put together whole drafted chapters. They’ve taken a bit of space and created distance through pausing. And now, they’re objective and listening and weighing and encouraged and moving forward, and fine with whatever the work needs.

It’s a busy time . . . it’s an engaging process . . . and feedback and support are invaluable.

You need the critic, as long as he minds his manners and uses his polite, in-town voice. In the same way, you may gather a team of positive but discerning writers and readers. Through these efforts, you’ll try on different things in order to learn what is the effect of your work on the reader.

Feel free to pick up new ideas, too, if you happen to do a little shopping while you’re in town. You should make the most of your stay, after all.

Thing is, Revision Village can be a place you stay for quite a long time, and though you may feel ready to move on, every minute here is worth it.

The Creative Process, Station Two: Draft Camp

draft camp

Draft Camp is the place in the creative process where you make a decision: Here’s where I’m going to camp out. Make a commitment to this particular idea; stay with it.

Camping, you risk rain and cold and all kinds of discomfort in the hope that this could be the best adventure of your life.

Things here are accomplished roughly.  Your perceptions may change again and again. But whatever happens in Draft Camp is meant to happen. It is never a waste of time.

–Excerpted from Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough

The sign says, “Pack it in, Pack it out – please!” In Draft Camp, nothing is thrown away – even when it feels like trash. Keep it with you.

Save your work, including each draft.

All you need are the basics; nothing fancy. Keep it simple. Keep it rough. Keep on pushing through, one idea at a time.

The Creative Process: Station One, the Playground

2 playground

Station One: The Playground

Creativity doesn’t begin in a vacuum, prison camp, or labor yard. It begins when you have an idea. And when you have an idea, even for a moment, you’re in a creative playground.

A playground is a place for enjoying, not perfection.

Lighten up and play.

Then you are ready to begin.

–Excerpted from Burn Wild

Stairs: A Collaborative Collage Poem

stairs-collage-poemThe Burn Wild class produced this collaborative collage poem. Here’s the process: each creates her own wildwrite, and then we randomly choose one line and read aloud together.

This is what emerged around the topic of stairs . . .


The thoughts are like my backyard

compost – hot

drips rich tea for the soil

Sometimes they move slowly,

softly, a tiny human clutched in

their arms, spilling over the sides

with mouth agape

In childhood dreams repeated, the same one floating down the stairs

of our home, dreamt so often I actually believed I could float down them

The stairs creak, but who hears?

It’s moments like the early dark and cool mornings that I lift her into

my arms by the scruff of her neck to carry her down the stairs

that I’m reminded of the change of Day

My young aunt swooned, my mother made eyes, and my sister was floored.

So stairs are about leaving, climbing, exiting, and taking what is yours.

Not Good Enough

Jeanne Favini penned this piece in the Burn Wild workshop last week. Her description of the overpowering critic thoroughly resonated with the group.  I also love the beautifully expressed hope.

 Not Good Enough

There are always plenty of people to let you know you’re not good enough. It started early enough that I had no choice but to believe it. Why would your parents lie to you about something like that?

And from there it became a chorus.

Sister, cousins, friends, teachers – critics all. Look around: everyone is doing this better than you.

It has seeped through whatever protective shell you may have had, saturated your skin and bones, taken over your brain, heart and soul.

You don’t need the outer voices any more.

Congratulations! You are now your own worst critic.

The critic: that chatty, snarky little bastard that never sleeps, never relents, never gives you an inch of daylight or hope. Swimming in an ocean of not-good-enough, drowning in self-enforced mediocrity.

Suffocating my own life.

Now gasping for air, plugging my ears, looking for the crack where my self can shine through. Hoping I have the guts, and the time to prove all the critics wrong.

I have fearless granddaughters. I’d like to be remembered as part of that cohort of shining women.

–Jeanne Favini


Effortless: The Swan

swan-March-12My word for 2014 is “effortless.” Last night I finished up a delightful workshop series that perfectly expressed what it means to be effortless. I taught alongside the lovely and wise Sage Cohen. Together, we imparted lessons on finding momentum in the writing life.

Our insights dovetailed in uncanny ways. With no discussion, we blogged the exact same words within hours of each other. Then there was the day we came to class chewing gum. “Actually, I haven’t chewed gum in years,” I said. “Me neither,” she said, and we both delivered our wads to the trash, laughing.

At the same time, we noticed and appreciated the difference in our approaches. I’m an intuitive, spontaneous teacher who uses visuals and “big picture” questions to access the now. Sage is thorough and full of foresight, enabling students to design their future and see what comes next.

What we expressed to our students is that each writer needs to find her own style, her own way, without judgment. Once you understand what you love to do, what comes naturally to you, and who you really are, everything is easy. Momentum is easy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this swan. So awkward on land, it finds grace and support on the water. There is a place where you, too, are at ease and in your element.

Are you trying to be another kind of writer or creative person? Let it go. Die to that. Come alive to who you really are. Let others surround you who understand and complement you. See how the waters part, effortlessly.


By the way, Sage is my special guest this evening at the Cascade Park Community Library in Vancouver, Washington at 7 pm. She will be speaking on “Writing as Transportation through Transformation.”

On What Makes A Real Writer

I received this note:

I’ve gone back and forth about writing and decided it was time to reach out. Dr. Codger is killing me lately.

I’m feeling like a sham as if any day someone will look under the sheet and say “Ah ha! We knew you couldn’t be a writer. Who did you think you were you fooling?”

I’m reading your book and employing all the tricks I know to shut him up but it feels like Dr. Codger is winning. Do/did you suffer from severe self-doubt? Even though I’ve written my way through my life, maybe I’m not really a writer?

This letter went right to my heart. I know exactly how it feels to be riddled with self-doubt, and it’s no picnic.

There are times even now, after more than twenty years of calling myself a writer, when I doubt myself and my work.

That internal critic and killjoy, Dr. Codger, says things like: “Well, sure, you’ve published stories and poems and books and such. But what about your autobiographical novel? It hasn’t sold to a publisher. You must not be a real writer.”

Or: “If you were a real writer, you wouldn’t procrastinate. I mean, it’s been over two months since you’ve put out a newsletter!”

Or: “If you were a real writer, you would never have had to self-publish your last book.”

Or: “If you were a real writer, people would notice your stories and poems when they come out, instead of ignoring them.”

All of these thoughts seem part of a diabolical design to tear me down and make me relinquish the proud title of “writer.”

Here’s the deal. I’m a real writer because I write. The end results of my work are not up to me. Whether a publisher wants my words, or whether an audience purchases my book, or whether I am noticed and celebrated or utterly ignored—these things are not what determine my path.

Neither will it stop me if I am feeling critical of my own work, or dissatisfied with my stories, or frustrated with a project. It won’t stop me, that is, unless I let it.

It’s so easy to let feelings and circumstances tell us who we are. But as the above writer said, “I’ve written my way through life.”

Despite all opposition, there it is: the deep-down pull to create. That desire won’t go away, no matter how much discouragement there is at the surface level.

Yield to the call.

Decide it is more important than your doubts.


Small and Slow is Beautiful: What Matters to An Author

2 tiny snail

Yesterday, putting pen to paper seemed like a waste of time. The thought crossed my mind: “Who am I touching with my writing, anyway?”

A too-critical mindset looks for reasons the work isn’t valid. Or gets you into comparing, by the numbers. “How many people are buying and reading my last book?” for instance.

Our society loves to rate and measure. Just today, I got a message that my Klout score went up. Does this make a rat’s ass of difference in the world?

Numbers have nothing to do with real success.

Yesterday I also heard from a couple of budding writers. One told me, “Thank you for sharing these poems, your story, with me. Thank God for nature, and art, and a few kind words.” The other writer had been having a hard day, and explained, “Once I settled in and started reading your book, it was like, okay.”

What matters is that I do the work I’ve been given to do.

What matters are these humans: one, two. Two seems like a pretty small number. But who can truly measure the value and beauty of those human beings, on this single day in time, and how by some grace I was able to help them?

These are the two people I will think about as I continue, day after day, the long, slow work of scribbling on the page.

Smallness, slowness, has its own beauty.

The Wordstock Red Chair 2013

me in red chair

Having so much fun at Wordstock 2013!  After loving the festival for many years, it’s an honor to be a Wordstock author and sit in the red chair. Also, I’m inspired by about a hundred different authors here, including Laura Stanfill and Sage Cohen, with whom I get to be on a panel today at 1 pm at the Oregon Convention Center. Find out what you need to know about Writing Guides – those within and without.

When You’re Stuck in the Middle of the Muddy Muddy Puddle – Combustus

See on Scoop.itCreativity

When it comes to learning how to tune down the inner critic, the affects can be far-reaching: Not only can you free yourself up to be more spontaneous and adventurous with the project you’re working on, but, as Krug points out, the benefits can…

Christi Krug‘s insight:

I did some work with an amazing business coach this morning, who encouraged me to celebrate my gift for helping people find their voice, get unstuck, and work through the muddy middles of their stories.


Delightful Deanna Peowaty told me the same thing when we talked after my Combustus interview with her last month. Hurray for the middles!  They can be bewildering, but as you persist in telling your story, they give way to clarity and delight.

See on www.combustus.com

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