The Right to Write: Roots (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I thought about Mary Ainsworth when I read Julia Cameron’s chapter on Roots in  The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life this week.

Mary Ainsworth is the developmental psychologist who, in the 1960s and 70s, conducted extensive research on Attachment Theory. She identified three different attachment patterns between infants and adults: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure), and anxious-ambivalent (also insecure).

The most desirous attachment pattern is the secure type (of course), in which the child uses the caregiver as a secure base to which he returns periodically—but otherwise freely explores his environment. The infants who demonstrated insecure attachment styles either were too anxious about separation to explore the environment or showed little relational interest.

Just as the more securely attached infants were found to be more socially successful, Julia Cameron believes that writers who also have a safe base, or roots as she terms it, will be more successful as well.

In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing. Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page…”

Roots—those things that anchor us into life—allow us the freedom to explore. When we have that safe base to return to—whether that is a day job, stable relationships, or some other regular routine—that security gives courage to creativity. It is the foundation on which to build new experiences.

Fine. But I’m not ready to give up my sabbatical fantasy yet. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living on a tropical island and doing nothing but writing (and lazing in the sun…listening to the sound of waves lapping the shore…) still seduces my imagination. But I understand what Cameron is saying. How many times have experiences from my day job inspired writing ideas that would have otherwise gone untapped? And if I didn’t have the security of a regular income, would I have dared invest my free time in writing a book?

Writers need to live in the world, Cameron says.

Give us too much self-involvement and we lose our involvement with the world. Yes, then we are boring…When we center our writing lives on our writing instead of our lives, we leach both our lives and our writing of the nutrients they require.”

Maybe Julia Cameron has a point. Chances are, if I did live on a tropical island with no responsibilities but writing, I would probably do everything but (I’ve always wanted to learn to windsurf …).

But I’m holding out for a happy medium. I think I could spend half the year on island time and the other half as responsible psychologist. Don’t you? Do you think life will wait for me? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out, but until then, I’m keeping my day job.

How about you?

Next week we wrap up the book with the last four chapters. Join us for Stakes, Procrastination, Into the Water, and The Right to Write. See you on the page!

Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: I Eat with My Eyes (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I drive with the windows down and the air conditioning on. The sun burns through the windshield and though the air is cool, I must let the breeze ripple my hair, feel the wildness of strands licking face. I have the music loud—it fills the air around me, drifts out and spills onto the road I leave behind.

I remember this—this wild abandon. Running away from home. A windblown reckless feeling. Music soothing raw emotions.

But this is different. A happy running away. A running to. I drive into the future.

tendril of gray
ribbon unravels
from the horizon and
meets me here, under
four tires. the trees
know my name and

reach for me with
white arms, shoulders
bared and beautiful, roots
steeped in gems that
take flight—move as
one, a wind-shaken sheet

of color waving and
swaying to the music
of the road. a lonely
cow peers through
doleful eyes, lows
softly in my wake.

I drive into the sky.

When I drive, the places I pass become mythical memories … vibrant colors, quaint villages, loquacious livestock. My imagination soars.
Julia Cameron understands.

I am very aware that the art of writing devours images and that if I am going to write deeply, frequently, and well, I must keep my inner pond of images very well stocked. When I want to restock my images, I get behind the wheel of my car.

My everyday images lose their luster in the ho-hum drudgery of life. Sometimes beauty can be better seen from a few paces back … or through an open window, driving by. Loping hills and grassy meadows stir my appetite for words. Rich sunsets create a poetry all their own.

 …As a writer, I eat with my eyes, and that sumptuous sunset sated my appetite. Today I am hungry to write.

Next week in our book club discussion of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, we explore Roots, ESP, and Cheap Tricks. See you on the page!

Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Feed the Horses (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

A few years ago, a young patient that I worked with left a mark on me. The girl was admitted to the rehabilitation unit where I work with a severe brain injury. We like to believe that some aspects of recovery from brain injury follow a predictable course. But truly, each case is different—each individual emerging in his or her own unique way. It was fairly early in this child’s recovery. She showed little awareness of her environment. She was also nonverbal.

When will she talk? Her mother worried.

No one could give her an answer. Several weeks went by and there was little change. We began to wonder if the child would ever speak again. Often, at the end of the work day, I would sit beside her bed and pray—watching her noiselessly writhe around in the safety bed.

Finally, the day came. She spoke her first word. I’ll never forget the sweetness of that moment. That evening, I tried to capture the beauty in poem:

silence broken by
one lonely word—long
awaited. thin
voice, not as I
thought. tremulous,
leaf shiver, small
in life’s breeze. you
named her and we
cried as you
called out “mommy”

My young friend came to mind this week as I read our assignments from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. What a precious gift is our voice—both vocal and written. It is one of the things that make us uniquely ourselves. This week Julia Cameron reminds me of this.

… I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it.

As writers we are told that there is perhaps nothing more important than finding our voice. But how? How do we uncover our voice?

Not surprisingly, Cameron believes the secret is daily writing.

I work daily. I get up to write the same way I go out to the barn and toss hay to the horses. It is unthinkable that the horses not be fed and fed in a timely way so they do not get too restless. My creative horses demand the same care. They, too, must be fed and in a timely fashion, and that is why I write first thing in the morning.

… writing regularly and repetitively and from the gut yields you a writing voice that is full and beautiful regardless of which genre you apply it in.

There is no better way to open a writing voice than to write regularly, repetitively, and from the gut…

Do you detect a theme here?

So … How are your morning pages coming? Evening pages? Mid-afternoon pages? Are you writing anything on a daily basis?

If Julia Cameron is right, this is the key to uncovering my unique voice. That rich world that lives in my head—the world of color and warmth and life—its way to the page is through practice. It starts with first words.

Every day I feed the horses. And in doing so, I too am fed.

Next week: Footwork, Practice, and Containment. And don’t forget to hug a Veteran today!

Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I’ve been blogging for eight years now and the time seems to have passed like a breath. In the beginning, I was more concerned about communicating a message than I was about the craft of writing. Those early entries are simple and true. They make fine reading. But there is one thing missing from my first posts…me.

When I read through those earlier works, there is not one inkling about the woman who created them.

This week in our readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron talks about the need for honesty in our writing.

This kind of dissonance, this sound of falseness, is what creeps into our writing when we use it as a place to hide something rather than reveal something. Writing is sheer—like a silk scarf—and the shape of our odd emotional furniture always shows beneath its drapes…

In my early writing, I hid behind the words. Rather than open the messiness of my life up for public consumption, I handled my message with kid gloves—making sure my hands did not get dirty.

Why? Why would I deliberately rob my words of warmth—hollow out any real connection the reader might make?

Cameron calls it honesty’s shy younger sister.

Vulnerability.

Vulnerability in writing is the enemy of grandiosity. It is the enemy of pomposity. It is the enemy of posturing; the enemy of denial…Vulnerability in writing is health…

But it is also really, really scary. Cameron touts writing as the antidote to this fear.

…once I put something on the page I am also rendered a little less vulnerable. I have created for myself a piece of turf on which I am willing to stand.

How about you? Does writing make you feel vulnerable? If so, can you take it to the page? As Cameron says, Vulnerability…is the part of ourselves that renders us capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.

Do you think it is worth the risk?

Three more chapters next week: Dailiness, Voice, and Form Versus Formula. See you on the page. The winner of The Girlfriend’s Short Stack is Carol! Yay! Congratulations, Carol. If you’d like a chance to win a piece of Vibella Jewelry, visit this post

Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: In Praise of Happiness (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. My Wednesday book club series is a part of the journey—a way of exploring creativity during this season. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. 

::

December 10, 1984

Dad called today to tell me that he got married last week. So now she is my stepmom. I can’t believe it. I was so mad when he told me. I wanted to hang up. But there is this: he sounded happy. So now I have to decide. Am I going to go on hating this forever? Or am I going to be happy for him?

I stumbled across these words in an old journal not too long ago.

I’ll never forget the day I learned my father had remarried. I was sixteen years old. It was four years after my parents’ divorce. All of my teenage hopes were crushed that day. I finally had to face the fact that my parents were never going to get back together.

I don’t remember exactly what I felt when I wrote those words, but I do remember that I made a deliberate decision soon after to be kind to my new stepmother. I believe writing about it all helped my young self make that decision.

Julia Cameron does too. In this week’s readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Cameron discusses how writing helps us make decisions that lead to happiness.

Just as walking aerobicizes the physical body, producing a flow of endorphins and good feelings, writing seems to alter the chemical balance of the soul itself, restoring balance and equilibrium when we are out of sorts, bringing clarity, a sense of right action, a feeling of purpose to a rudderless day. Furthermore, writing when we are out of happiness can lead us into writing from happiness. We recall happier moments and we recall happiness itself … Writing … is a series of choices that lead to a sense of something made—that something is “sense.” Sense brings to the writer choice and, with choice, a sense of at least the potential for happiness.”

My father and his bride celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this past December. I have never once regretted my decision to embrace my stepmother. Writing about it helped me see my father’s happiness. And in seeing that, I was able to see at least the potential for happiness for me.

Not only does writing lead us into happiness, says Cameron, but writing from that place of joy is—contrary to common mythology—powerful. And natural.

Two variables seem essential for life to feel beneficent. One variable is stability. The other is change. Writing supplies a sense of both variables. Writing both gives continuity and creates a sense of continuity. Writing both gives change and creates and awareness of change. A writing life is therefore …very often a life with substantial happiness at its core. Writing to find my happiness, I find my happiness—writing.”

The angst-ridden, neurotic writer is a fallacy. A lot of good stuff comes from joy, says Cameron.

Doesn’t that make you happy?

Next week we discuss three more chapters: Making It, Honesty, and Vulnerability. See you on the page!

Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

Almost Empty