Perspective, please

Just when my I'm taking myself too seriously, a friend tenders this treasure from Argentinian poet Alicia Partnoy:


I am talking to you
about poetry and you
say when do we eat.
The worst of it is I'm
hungry too.

- Alicia Partnoy


Yes, actually, it is brain surgery

"Self-criticism, like self-administered brain surgery, is perhaps not a good idea."

- Joyce Carol Oates
The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art


Kick the Critic

The world, and my head, is full of critics.

Big talkers with sandpaper voices that cripple every action with an overwhelming fear of mediocrity. When my inner critic is louder than my mind is bright, I go to the experts:

Natalie Goldberg, who wrote the classic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, encourages writers to kick their critic to the curb. And indeed, in my copy (circa 1980s) the chapter Trouble with the Editor is dog-eared and nearly every passage is underlined.

Anne Lamott’s self-deprecating wit and tender humor always move me to a place of possibility — and my inner critic rankled enough to go away. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is her classic how-to book. Fortunately, this ‘manual’ is more humor and heart than step-by-step guide.

But sometimes even the ‘experts’ aren’t enough. To keep my mind encouraged and my spirits lifted, I have this touchstone at easy reach:

Keep the Channel Open

A letter from Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille

There is a vitality, a life force,
a quickening that is translated through
you into action. And because there is only
one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium, and it will be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your
business to determine how good it is,
nor how valuable, nor how it compares
with other expressions. It is your
business to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself
or your work.
You have to keep open and aware
directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.


Secrets & Stories

It’s the summer season, and seemingly every publication is touting its Summer Reading Guide. Oprah’s O magazine, Poets & Writers (with a cover photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses!). Even the Oregonian has devoted pages and pages to their must-read recommendations.

But I just can’t do it. I’m not feeling lofty or ambitious. The days are long, the sun is shining and my attention span is shorter than my daily horoscope. As much as I really do intend to read Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I’m just not there yet.

Instead, I am obsessed with quick, voyeuristic fixes like these:

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
This beefy collection of six-word memoirs, compiled by Smith magazine, offers a blend of the pithy, sad and inspirational. Dubbed as “America’s haiku," these ultra-short autobiographies are addictive little gems.

Started small, grew, peaked, shrunk, vanished.
- George Saunders

Danced in fields of infinite possibilities.
-Deepak Chopra

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
PostSecret began in 2004 as an art installation project by Frank Warren. It's catapulted into a community art project with numerous book compilations, a thriving website, and its own Wikipedia entry.

The concept is simple but profound: People anonymously decorate postcards and share secrets they have never revealed. More than 200,000 secrets have been collected, ranging from admissions of infidelity and criminal activity to confessions of desires, dreams and embarrassing habits. The artful mini-canvas of a postcard, combined with raw truth, is a compelling — and, at times, heartbreaking — combination.

"I think we all have secrets," Rick Warren said in an interview that appeared on Geek Gestalt, "and I like to imagine us keeping them in a box. Each day we face a choice to bury (them) down deep inside it, or find the box, bring it out in the light, open it up, and share the secrets with the light."


Find Your Place

The book is out!

Find Your Place, a book of poetry and prose from Seashore Family Literacy, has hit bookshelves everywhere — or rather, a couple of libraries, bookstores, and kitchen counters across the central Oregon Coast. But it could be everywhere — and it could be yours!

The 64-page book reflects the work and spirit of the Young Writers Group, a collection of students age 14 to 21 who enjoy writing practice with a supportive vibe. Students and adult volunteers meet every Thursday evening to write together in a place where it is safe to reveal the darker (and occasionally, lighter) side of life.

I’ve been a volunteer with the Young Writers Group for nearly four years. And, I’m grateful to feel I have found my place. I like to say that “poetry saved my life,” and it’s true. But it’s this endearing group of misfits and upstarts that expanded my heart.

Do you want to feed your mind, encourage young authors and celebrate the power of the writing process? Find Your Place is available for just $10. (And all proceeds go to the writing programs at Seashore Family Literacy, a nonprofit organization).