“Astoria” and How to Be Death-Defying


“Astoria” tells of Herculean effort: the dual expedition to the Pacific coast in 1808 shortly after Lewis and Clark made their journey. When Artistic Director Chris Coleman first came across the book unveiling this history, he asked, “How have I never heard of this?” And in typical Chris Coleman-genius-fashion, he found a way to adapt it for Portland Center Stage.

It’s a sweeping tale. One expedition sets sail, seeking the Northwest Passage via South America, while the second expedition pushes across land by foot, horse, and canoe. The adventures are harrowing, and the miscalculations and misery and deaths along the way are ominous. The man behind this two-journey scheme is John Jacob Astor, an entrepreneur determined to cash in on the Northwest’s number one resource: fur. He’s in such a hurry to get on with things, he makes less than optimal choices of leadership, while ensconced in his stuffed armchair back east.

Astor appoints Jonathan Thorn as the ship captain whose staunch military training takes black-and-white thinking to a horrifying extreme. Ben Rosenblatt plays the role compellingly. As for the land expedition, Astor appoints Wilson Price Hunt, a greenhorn businessman barely qualified to lead a camping trip. His constant waffling makes every bad situation worse. Another great performance here, by Shawn Fagan.

I imagine Astor to say: But what can you do? Brilliant, courageous, survivalist, self-sacrificing, resourceful, ambitious, determined, daring, death-defying, hardscrabble, relentless, mountaineering-and-seaworthy leaders are hard to come by these days.

Near-misses, hard choices, selfishness and self-sacrifice all come into play. It’s a harrowing saga which recounts many near-deaths: being scalped, or gulping down moccasins to avoid starvation, or swallowing seawater in a storm-tossed rowboat.

Why would anyone sign up to go through that? I kept asking, witnessing the perils of each crew. How can greed be such a compelling force? But it wasn’t greed for everyone. It was survival. The hirelings who made up these crews were dirt-poor immigrants or persecuted natives or out-of-work sailors. So they made up their minds about what they had to do.

To not risk, meant dying.

As the play closed, I stood with the rest of the packed audience in a resounding ovation. I felt relieved that I didn’t have to fight fatigue, starvation, disease, hypothermia, attack by natives, treachery. How comfortable my life is.

I have nothing compelling me to take my life in hand and journey across an unknown world under brutal conditions.

Being a creator, my mind quickly goes to the landscape of my writing. I’m okay, so I don’t write as if my life depends on it. If I don’t get my stories or thoughts out: so what?

Creative discoveries may be awaiting as if on a jagged peak or along a swollen river, or in a meager encampment. These are things that deep down I believe I was meant to experience, but may not, without conviction.

Could I willingly sign myself up for emotional peril: pain or embarrassment or the mental anguish of writing my story?

In Letters to a Young Poet (translated by Stephen Mitchell), Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

I don’t want life-or-death choices, I want my hot bath and my lavender chamomile tea. I don’t want to reveal my stories if it means rejection, judgment, scoffing, or the worst: being ignored.

Those who move the world are these brave ones underneath it all, acting because they must, carving pathways, creating change, for better or for worse.

Time to rethink what I want, and to want risk.

What this reminds me is that it’s time to take the lead of my own creative journey. There’s only one choice of leader. And if she’s going to be a good one, it’s entirely up to me.


Photo credits: Kate Szrom













My Writing River: A Poem

snippet collage version Delightfish

by Emily Gillespie

It starts with a trickle

My writing river is flowing on uncut soil
Atop the leaves and the dirt, forging a new trail
One fit for future waves to maneuver
It’s poking over to the left, seeing if it likes that
It turns to the right when it sees an opportunity to flow
Not scared to turn around if it doesn’t feel right
If it doesn’t suit the potential of this new writing river
A river that will take years of repetition to carve into the earth
Years of nudging its way into a strong current
riverWidening as it sees fit
And narrowing when it needs
But always flowing
Disregarding the trees
And the logs
And the rocks in the way
Not even the longstanding mountains stand a chance
Because this is my writing river
Stories as tiny as guppies and as big as whales will find their way down
Colorful energetic spindly fish storiessnippet collage version Delightfish
And simple silver mackerel fish stories
Long, winding eel-like stories
And dark, unmoving bottom feeder stories
All will be honored and accommodated in my new writing river
Just wait


Thank you to writer and storyteller, Emily Gillespie, for describing what it is to surrender to the writing process while honoring the discipline and practice. Loving the wisdom!

The Creative Process: Station Three, the Way Station

In Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough, I outline the five-stage creative process.

And here is Station Three, the Way Station.
This creative process works for anything you are making – a painting, a choreographed dance, a photograph. Because I most often work with writers, here we’ll take the writer’s standpoint.

Station One is the most misunderstood, especially by beginning writers. Starting a new project, they expect a difficult path, not a playground.

Station Two is the most productive, because this is where you dig in and draft without interference from the critic.

Station Three is absolutely crucial.

However, many beginners don’t know about this stage of the process.

Writers run into problems, because:

  • Having completed rough drafts, writers are in a hurry.
  • Writers rush toward the “fixing” or “publishing” phase.
  • In all the excitement, a writer gets too attached to the work.
  • Those who stay too close to their work feel overly sensitive.
  • Confusion is rampant about where to go next, and what advice to take.
  • A writer can get discouraged and quit at this point. Many do.

Skipping this part can derail your entire project.

Station Three is really a time out. It’s getting perspective. Imagine a rough outpost where you stay before continuing an expedition.

Or picture a motel with a gas station, where you refuel and take a break.

Or think of a hunter’s blind, hidden up and away from the action.

You need to do whatever you need to do that will create distance and objectivity for you regarding the work.

One writer, Vicki, takes a break after drafting her novels to read a favorite author.

Another puts his handwritten drafts in a drawer for six months.

Still another writer retreats to the beach for a weekend, and reads over the entire draft with “fresh eyes.”

What needs to happen here is a changing of the guard in your mind.

In One and Two, the creative mind takes the lead.

This is the only way to grab hold of an original, exciting idea and see it through.

However, that creative mind (Dream Kid, I call her), will be bruised, battered, and discouraged – or overwilling to follow – unless distance is created.

The critic is called forth.

Yes, that critic, whom we fought with and finally banished – he’s the guy we need now.

The Way Station embraces the critic. Discernment, here, is everything.

You will need feedback, support, community and resources to make Stage Three successful.

Most of all, you will need time.

The Why of What You Do

When we create, it’s vital to connect to the why. And also the who.

This week, meeting with clients preparing to write books, I asked, “Who do you imagine your reader to be?”

This is not to say that we write focused solely on the reader. Rather, we have a sense of plunging into our own story, curiosity, and what delights us. At the same time, we are not alone, and there’s synergy in identifying those people who need what we have to share.

Connecting with these people propels us forward.

It’s helpful to take note of what is most rewarding for you in your creative work. What are the responses that make you soar, and why?

When I get a comment about my work – whether writing, art, or teaching – if the comment captures something I’m really wanting to bring forward, I celebrate. This feels like the best kind of success.

I want to say: You get it! You’ve seen my dream!

These words from Wildfire Writer, George, made me feel that way this week.

I wanted to mention last night’s Wildfire Writing class. As a writer I have to express my thoughts.

You are incredibly talented in enabling people to write down their personal stories. More so then I ever realized from the many classes that I have taken from you in the past.

You have more than a writing/teaching talent; you possess an honest concern for people. It was amazing to listen to some of the personal journeys from the women. I was so touched by the care and thoughtfulness you gave to each individual and the circumstances of the story they each unveiled, possibly for the first time.

You are without a doubt making a significant difference in the lives of the many people who walk through the doorway of your classroom. Thank you for doing what you do.

 You are so, so welcome, my friend.





Creativity, Trauma, and My Beautiful Selfishness

Last weekend I ran away for “my selfish weekend.” Alone and unplugged, I focused on creativity and restoration.

I painted. I walked in the woods. I made collage. I drew a bubble chart of my projects. I wrote poems, worked on my novel.

I’d tossed into my bag Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life. I picked it up. It came to me in a fresh wave that indeed, I survived chronic childhood trauma.

One thing trauma does is shut a person down. Creativity opens a person up.

As I’ve learned to express myself, I’ve woken up to life.

And life isn’t about being comfortable.

Over the past year, emotions have sharpened. The life force insisted I pay more attention to my inner world.  I tackled creative growth with a fierce, new selfishness.

Yet there’s been a sticky sense of guilt. Part of me wants to go back to being the person I used to be.

And, honestly, the people around me have been less than thrilled. One family member said, “Everything’s about you, you, you.”

I could explain what’s happening as healing from post-traumatic stress. Or I could grab another label: midlife crisis, perimenopause, empty nest syndrome, soul recovery.

Or I can just call this my beautiful selfishness.

As I told one friend, “I can hardly believe myself. I’ve started doing what I really want to do. I am not all about my husband and kids anymore. I’ve stopped asking permission.”

“Oh, then it’s balanced,” she said.


“It’s balanced. When your kids were young, when you were newly married, you focused on everyone else. You spent years doing that. This is a time of putting things into balance.”

I came across this in Healing from Trauma:

“It’s okay to enjoy yourself,” writes author Jasmin Lee Cori. “It’s okay to let go of others’ suffering as well as your own and for a little time be ‘selfish.’ Actually it’s not selfish; it’s self-regeneration. It’s a very human capacity that helps keep us alive.”








Yes, giving ourselves time and permission to create, play, and heal can feel selfish. But it’s our birthright. It’s being alive.

I must claim all of this if I’m going to help anyone else do the same. The more care I give my soul, the more I can care for others.

This selfishness is crucial to wholeness.

It’s balanced.

It’s beautiful.



The Enneagram for Awakening: Old Egos and New Heroes

See on Scoop.itArtful and Mindful Living

www.enneagramplayground.com From the Muppets to Mother Teresa, enneagram fixations are everywhere. Eckhart Tolle and Abraham-Hicks have been a massive help t…

Christi Krug‘s insight:

What is the enneagram? A delightful key to what drives you. 


It’s humbling and freeing all at the same time to find out that your stumbling blocks aren’t unique.


For example, I was shocked to discover that my lifelong complaint, "No one understands me" was the common perspective of type 4.


In any case, I’m loving Joshua French’s perspectives on the enneagram, and according to his great video introduction, I’m Kermit the Frog.


Sigh. It’s not easy being green.



See on www.youtube.com

Write a Page Turner by Overriding Instinct: Creative Fiction

See on Scoop.itWriting

http://creativewritingtutorials.blogspot.com http://terribleimmunity.com Show notes: our own instincts can take away fro the entertainment we can achieve. Yo…

Christi Krug‘s insight:

This goes along with our need to stop protecting our characters – as is our first instinct.

See on www.youtube.com

Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work

See on Scoop.itCreativity

Research into brain science can help us cut through the mind-clutter.

Christi Krug‘s insight:

Stepping away from an issue and engaging in a distraction does not mean you’re getting distracted. It means you are letting the unseen, creative processes do their work while you direct attention elsewhere. 


Spending a few minutes with a journal, sketchbook, favorite song, hobby, or going for a walk are great ways to engage the mind with a light, fun, task – this is outlined in Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough.


Meanwhile, you are giving your creative mind the room it needs to breathe.

See on blogs.hbr.org

Overcoming Obstacles to Creativity

I had a wonderful conversation over the radio with Leigh Anne Kranz, host of the Bread and Roses show on KBOO. We talked about “what happens to us” after being so full of creative ideas as children, and suddenly becoming stodgy, blocked adults with no creative whims or activities. We also talked about the many challenges faced by women in particular when it comes to making time for writing, painting, or other creative outlets.

Oh, I could spend hours and weeks and months on this topic. I already did! The result is that book, of course.

Here’s the interview, which turned out to be fun and inspiring. (Note: First you’ll get a few seconds on politics and Iran as the first radio show finishes up.)

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

See on Scoop.itWriting

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

Anne Lamott’

See on www.brainpickings.org

The Perils of Plans: Why Creativity Requires Leaping into the Unknown

See on Scoop.itWriting

“The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it.”

Christi Krug‘s insight:

Absolutely true. Was just discussing with someone yesterday. If you insist on a plan, fine, but know that you will be foiled many times.


"The writing life [and the creative life, too,]  isn’t just filled with predictable uncertainties but with the awareness that we are always starting over again."

See on www.brainpickings.org

10 Rules for Creative Projects from Iconic Painter Richard Diebenkorn

See on Scoop.itCreativity

“Do search. But in order to find other than what it searched for.”

On a recent visit to the Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-

Christi Krug‘s insight:

The points I love here, I really love. Some of the rest don’t resonate with me today – and that’s perfectly wonderful, too.


I adore learning from the creative process of others.

See on www.brainpickings.org

Kierkegaard on Anxiety & Creativity

See on Scoop.itCreativity

“Because it is possible to create — creating one’s self, willing to be one’s self… — one has anxiety. One would have no anxiety if there

Christi Krug‘s insight:

This is reassuring and timely. As a creative person, I absolutely relate to the "dizzying effect" of all the choices available to me, not only as a writer but as a poet, artist, and coach.


I’m learning it is all right to experience and embrace the anxiety. I am learning how to live with it and acknowledge the strange partnership we share.

See on www.brainpickings.org

How Daydreaming Can Actually Make You Smarter

See on Scoop.itCreativity

Daydreaming gets a pretty bad rap. It’s often equated with laziness, and we tend to write off people with wandering minds as being absent-minded “space cadets” who can’t get their heads out of the clouds.

Christi Krug‘s insight:

For over a decade, I’ve been helping people daydream in order to pay attention to their stories, desires, and ideas–and now research is uncovering some of the benefits of this!

See on www.huffingtonpost.com

Contact Christi