“Astoria” and How to Be Death-Defying

32106632295_4f556f1879_k

“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.

31479387403_48cb514355_k

Photo credits: Kate Szrom

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Happy New Year: Starting Over Is An Illusion

2lotym15_009Happy New Year . . . two weeks late. And right on time.

My thoughts this new year are all about what isn’t. A new year isn’t.

It’s a figment of our collective imagination. A construct. We created calendars and new years to organize our time and activities, to help us identify and sort.

And sometimes, the idea of starting fresh is enticing and exciting. It’s like the pull of a blank page, inviting words.

Other times, starting over can be an enormous burden. This is the case when facing repeated mistakes. Or making New Year’s resolutions we can’t seem to keep. Or re-starting a novel or book or creative work that didn’t meet our expectations.

I used to be unable to keep a journal. I would tear out the pages in frustration, endlessly starting over. I had to scratch out the past, have a blank, clean start, find square one. (My video “Journaling as a Creative and Spiritual Practice” tells more.)

If you’ve made New Year’s resolutions and feel them crumbling already, know this: there is no such thing as a new start. And it is not needed.

Your life is one seamless, beautiful moment, from birth to last breath. Think about it: did you experience a blank screen between December 31, 2015 at 11:59 and midnight on January 1, 2016?

It’s simply your critical mind (“Dr. Codger,” I call it), that relies on tools, calendars, and timelines, in order to assist you. But you are not being assisted if that critical mind is hounding you, over and over, about what you haven’t done within a certain time frame.

Get this: you are right on time. Everything is happening just as it is supposed to. You can keep every page in your journal, even the ones with mistakes. You can accept, too, the imperfectly painted canvas and the broken resolution.

And so we learn from our mistakes, and tell stories about them. Next Saturday, January 23, I’ll be joined by three beautiful storytellers as well as the stunning art of Erin Leichty. “Fumbling Forward, Personal Stories of Awkward Grace,” happens 5 pm at Waterstone Gallery, with myself, Carisa Miller, Sage Cohen, Gypsy Martin, and Susan Domagalski Fleming.

Come and be reminded that you are exactly where you belong, here and now.

With Gypsy Martin, another storyteller for “Fumbling Forward.”

Photo credit: top photo by Johann Leiter.

Working with A Young Writer: Noticing Favorite Things & Play

Natalie

“The puppy flew out of a cupcake. Her name is Candy.”  –Natalie, age 8

Natalie is the youngest writer I coach. When she walked in with a box of rainbow-colored modeling clay, I set aside my prompts for the afternoon and admired her tiny, intricate creations. As is always the case, what you love is the doorway to your creativity. Your passions are stronger fuel than the instructions of any teacher. Sure enough, when I asked questions and followed her lead, her story was incredibly imaginative and wonderful.

The next time you are hoping to motivate someone to write, yourself included, notice what is already being created but perhaps overlooked. When working with a young writer, pay attention to her play.

Build the writing world on a foundation of beloved things.

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

snippet---scary-delightfish

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!

Goals vs. Purpose: Measuring the Creative Life, Where Everything Counts

purple

 

My daughter B, home from college, is sleeping in my writing space.

I feel displaced, frustrated. Failing.

What about all the things I hoped to accomplish this summer?

Publishing: submit
Short story: start
Art: finish picture book
Novel: get halfway through this monster
Nonfiction: draft book

I’m not getting anywhere. Stuck.

“So, Christi,” I ask myself. “Why are these things so important, anyway?”

I take the list apart and look closely.

Publishing.
I want to get my words “out there.” I want to mean something.

Short Story.
I love the fun of a short piece, the surprise of discovering where it will go.

Art.
I want my art to delight.

Novel.
I want to fuel my creative life, to stay with the craft and enjoy it.

Nonfiction.
I want to teach, mentor and forge relationships.

All of the above.

Ultimately, this is why I do everything: to love and be loved.

 

And then I realize I’m doing it. ALL OF IT!

Total mindset-flip. How?

I stopped looking at the goals (the “what”) and got in touch with my purpose (the “why”).

Things are much simpler than we make them. Your purpose is far more important than your goals.

I invite you to downshift into a greater understanding of why you create.

My list is below. Now it’s your turn.


 

How I Stayed in My Purpose Today

Publishing:

Made a couple of greetings to send friends. These two hand-crafted cards will mean something to my dear readers. If this isn’t publishing, what is?

Short story:

Chose carefully my words for the cards. 

Art:

Decorated the cards.

Novel/fueling creativity:

While cleaning kitchen, listened to John O’Donohue’s thoughts on being an artist (To Bless This Space Between Us). Worked on novel for 15 minutes. Wrote two pages in journal. Walked with a fellow creative coach.

Nonfiction/teaching and mentoring:

All week, taught and coached gifted, appreciative, unique, amazing writers.

“Loved and was loved.”

In the weeks that my daughter has been home, we’ve shared laughter, stress, stories, adventure, art, and hugs.

Which means I’m right on target with what matters to me.

It’s all in knowing what to count.

small-castle

You’re the Writer, It’s Your Show – Don’t Tell Us The Back Stage

Guest post by Wildfire Writer Desirée Wright offers insight and wisdom for every writer hesitant about taking that bow . . .

Back Stage, Front Stage

by Desirée Wright

When my daughter landed her first speaking role in a high school play she was ecstatic, and she should have been. She stuck with auditions and volunteering behind the scenes until the dedication paid off and she was cast.

I picked her up from late night rehearsals and she was non-stop with the theater “drama” and the weird and wonderful things that take place “behind the curtain” as a show develops. Her stories reminded me of when I was in theater.  As her parent I was just happy that she shared her experiences.

theatre wikimedia commons

I went to the opening night performance. It was awesome, of course, and I cried, of course. Since it took the cast an additional hour after the show to clear the set, get out of costume and listen to “notes” I waited in the car. When she came out I told her how great the show was and how proud I was of her. She smiled and then started to tell me all the little details that went wrong or happened differently than they rehearsed.

As a former actor I understood, but as an audience member I didn’t want to hear. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and say “lalalalala” for as long as she talked. I wanted the escapism and journey I just took for two hours to stay enchanted.

After a few minutes I stopped her and said that as her audience I had no idea what was in the script. I was oblivious to the missed cues and props that were glaring mistakes to her. The show was so good and engaging that once I was sucked in  I was in!

The little things went unnoticed. They were big things to her since her blood, sweat and tears (oh so many tears) were invested in the show, but to me, the show was simply great.

3-curtain

As a writer I’ve listened to some amazing, soul touching stories and after, when I’m still basking in the glow of their storytelling the author says “I left this out” or “this didn’t really happen like that.” Kill. Moment. Now.

The rule that applies to actors and their performances also works for writers: don’t tell what happens back stage or behind the curtain.

What you write is your creative gift to the world, true or not. Don’t ruin a good thing by over-sharing and basically telling your reader that the journey they took wasn’t really the right one.

Keep backstage, backstage. No excuses required. If you feel a need to come clean and tell all the dirty details that were changed or didn’t play out like you wrote, find someone other than your readers or audience. Otherwise, bask in the glory of a good story.

You are the writer. It’s your show. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Just take your bow.

 

Small Press Love

3 books

 

Last week, three volumes showed up on my doorstep – anthologies by lovely, local small presses.

Pacific Northwest small publishers are made up of living, breathing, dynamic, literary heroes.

Drawn to Marvel is a hoot, expansive, and fascinating. It features my prose poem, “Pencil Boy,” which first appeared in Dixon Ticonderoga, a zine edited by the illustrious Stevan Allred of the small press, Red Cat Press.

Because of Drawn to Marvel, I can now say I’ve been published alongside Sherman Alexie, one of my uncaped heroes whose work is featured here.

These are poems inspired by comic books, with all the humor and kapow! you would expect. Edited by Bryan Dietrich and Marta Ferguson of Minor Arcana Press.

Ghost Town Poetry, Volume II, is a collection of poems penned by participants in the Ghost Town Reading series. This is a literary series hosted by the fabulous Christopher Luna and Toni Partington of Printed Matter Vancouver, who edited the collection.

The book celebrates a decade of their caring, brilliant efforts nurturing emerging poets alongside those nationally renowned.

Luna and Partington expand the heart of every poetry lover and community builder in the Vancouver/Portland area. I’m delighted that my poem, “On the Path,” found a home here.

I was also pleased to be a part of Ghost Town Poetry, Volume I.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River is an alluring collection of character-driven, voice-driven short stories, edited by literary powerhouse Liz Prato and published by Forest Avenue Press.

This press is making a name for itself as the place to get published in Portland. Dynamo Laura Stanfill shines a spotlight on every author, and Tuesday’s release at Powell’s was no exception, giving me the chance to autograph my story, “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” Below I’m with Tracy Stepp, copy editor.

Guess you could say I’m Drawn to Marvel at Ghost Town Night Rain. Thank you, wonderful small presses.

tracy stepp and christi at powells

Photo by Laura Stanfill.

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.

 

 

 

 

Stuck

We’ve all felt stuck in our writing. Teresa Rodden, a life coach and writer in the Burn Wild workshop, colors this feeling in a new way. I love the wisdom of her poem, generated during National Poetry Month.

Stuck

No inspiration –

Thud.

A resounding thud.

Hello?

Is anybody there?

Crickets.

Thoughts dropping from mind to mouth,

Yet not one tasty enough to swallow.

Where did she go,

That lovely dream chick who can make me smile?

She lights up my eyes. She amazes me with her silly word tricks.

Is she hiding behind overwhelm?

Did she run for the hills seeking escape?

I don’t know where my darling flew.

I will not chase her; she knows best.

To receive the gifts meant especially for me

Sometimes I just need to be still.

– Teresa Rodden

cricket-and-grass

 

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

3-creative-journey-chariot

Dan Berne and The Gods of Second Chances

I’m damn lucky to know a human being like Dan Berne, whom I met last fall through the fireball known as Laura Stanfill.

Dan’s down-to-earth kindness impressed me; his wife, Aliza, had her own stories to tell and a dazzling smile.

DSC09120

I love it when nice humans turn out to be hardworking and amazing at their craft. This is the case with Dan Berne.

And humanity is what I love about The Gods of Second Chances, published by Forest Avenue Press.

Dan’s characters are flawed, vulnerable people with relatable longings and regrets.

I am impressed by the blend of action and emotion. The book moves at a beautiful clip, depicting how we can get hurt in family, using this hurt to defend ourselves against the world.

What’s more, I’ve been doubly, even triply blessed, to hear Dan read his work at the fabulous Powell’s launch of The Gods of Second Chances last month.

Then, he was guest in my classroom. Dan visited “Finding Your Stride,” my March co-teaching adventure with Sage Cohen. Sage and I were front row beneficiaries of Dan’s wisdom on how to build characters who pull you in.

Together with our wonderful writing students, we soaked up Dan’s stories behind the story.

headerI’m not sure how it works, scientifically, but knowledge peaks through live human contact. I’m sure of it.

When I meet the writer, then read his work, there’s a transference of strength and possibility.

 

It resonates through a handshake, a smile, a voice.

It’s not the same by reading merely, or by admiring work from afar.

There’s something about having that writer hand you their book, signed by their pen, warmed by their hands. And it’s exciting to realize this writer’s success grew out of working in a community, getting support and encouragement from other human beings on a weekly basis.

Being willing to be real, to be human, to risk reaching out – it shows in Dan’s stories. It shows in his life.

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.”

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.

Resolutions No More: Creating Lasting Change

I used to make New Year’s resolutions. Not anymore. Every resolution I made out of frustration and criticism (Read: the inner critic. I call him Dr. Codger), didn’t come from the core of me, and I couldn’t sustain it. I’d get discouraged and give up.

By contrast, lasting change comes from acceptance. It comes from heart, not head.

Diary Hand     More . . .

Contact Christi