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Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things

SquirrelDo you misplace your keys, lose track of time and show up late for appointments, or only remember to pay your bills once the disconnect notice arrives? What about projects and deadlines? Do you start everything you do with a bang, only to fizzle out before you finish? Or maybe you just have trouble sticking to a routine that keeps your life running smoothly. In any case, I feel you.

I’ve been there. Until a few years ago, my life was a hot mess of distraction. It’s a trait that seems to go hand in hand with creative brilliance, and since so many of my clients and readers fall into the brilliant artist or entrepreneur category, organization and project planning is a frequent focus of my work. I’ve been outlining my systems during one-on-one consults for months, and I’ve seen them work for all sorts of people.

The benefit to focusing on this type of work via private consultations is that we can ask each other questions, dialogue, and then use the shared information to  customize a plan that works for your unique situation. The drawback, of course, is that not everyone has the money to pay for one-on-one creativity consultations to help them organize their lives and creative endeavors. I’ve compiled and condensed the basics into an ebook, “Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things,” so you can access the information anytime you want. You can buy it here for just $5.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, or you’d be just as happy with a simple PDF, click here to buy it for $3.99. Just send me a note with your payment, and I’ll email you the file.

If you’re looking for a miracle fix, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a simple strategy to get yourself organized that doesn’t require anything fancy or expensive, give it a shot. I did the legwork of several years of trial and error (lots and lots of error) to figure out how to simplify in a way that isn’t complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found that approach to work for more than a few days. All you’ll need to get started is a notebook with three sections, a pen, and the commitment to try something new.

Note: The reviews are positive so far, but there aren’t many! You can read them here. After you read the book, if you’d do me the favor of writing a review, I’d really appreciate it!

In Honor of Maya Angelou

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“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  – Maya Angelou

I’ll never forget the first time I encountered Maya Angelou’s poetry.  I sobbed through that first reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, not because of the grief of it all, but from relief. And that relief grew by leaps and bounds as I devoured every piece of writing by this magnificent woman that I could get my hands on.

As a young girl, reading Maya Angelou’s work, learning about her life and the multitude of ways she had triumphed over what many would consider to be insurmountable odds, I took it as irrefutable proof that outside forces could never detain or control the spirit that refused to be dominated by circumstance.

Of all of the gifts I received from Maya Angelou’s work, the most important lesson I took from her was this:

There is a difference between living a life that has known tragedy and living a tragic life. You get to decide.

Or, in Maya Angelou’s words, “No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”

It’s the sort of gift that can never be repaid, only paid forward. Each day that we’re still alive is a chance for spiritual revival, and rather than mourn her death, I am celebrating her life, because she lived each day like it mattered. Her days mattered. Every single one. So do mine. So do yours.

 

Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for the courage and tenacity of your 86 years. Thank you for doing what you loved. Thank you for persisting, overcoming, encouraging, and speaking out so boldly and relentlessly. Thank you for every single life you ever touched, the people you knew and loved intimately, and the hundreds of thousands of us you never knew, but forever changed.

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

 

Book Review: How To Sing When People Cut Off Your Head And Leave It Floating In The Water, by Michael Collins

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Please note that this is not a sponsored post. The only payment I am receiving for this review is the pleasure of sharing the work of a poet whose words leave me speechless.

It took me a long time to circle around to writing this review. It’s been weeks since my first read-through. Since then, I’ve read this chapbook four more times.

Yes, I’ve read this collection of poems five times. It’s worth noting that I rarely reread anything. Anything that I’ve read more than once qualifies for a very special place of honor on my nightstand.

You might be wondering why it would take me so long to write a review for a book I love enough to read five times in a matter of weeks. To be frank, it’s because I don’t think God Damn! as a stand-alone qualifies as a book review.

Until now, that’s all I was capable of getting out when I tried to talk about it. I’m not going to do justice to Michael Collins’ poetry, and that pains me. It deserves more.

How To Sing When People Cut Off Your Head and Leave It Floating In The Water is street corner blues and ancient mythology, shaking hands over a bridge of timeless relevance. It’s irreverent laughter and the type of grief that keens and wails like a warning in the night.

Michael Collins has succeeded in producing a body of words that will remind you that poetry can be simultaneously deep and easily accessible; a rare feat in a field of publishing that sometimes seems to be dominated by the masturbatory work of academic poetry, written for the sole purpose of flaunting the author’s intelligence (or access to a dictionary and a perverse love of obscure words). It’s a reminder that brilliant writing is meant to clarify, not confuse.

You’ll have plenty of questions after reading this book, but blessedly, “What the hell was he getting at?” won’t be one of them. Michael’s poetry is open to interpretation, while also being refreshingly straightforward in tone and content.

If you’re looking for poetry that is fresh, digestible, and most importantly, actually enjoyable to read, you can buy How To Sing When People Cut Off Your Head And Leave It Floating In The Water on Amazon.

 

In the Spotlight: Marybeth Bonfiglio, Creatrix of Our Word

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For nearly a decade, I have had the pleasure of watching Marybeth Bonfiglio expand, create, and transform, all while remain perfectly, inimitably herself.
With the creation of Our Word, she has offered up the opportunity to be your own, true, perfect self, changeable and unchanging, within the support of an online community. 
Show up. Be seen. Be true to Your Word. – Mani
How did Our Word come to be? And what does it mean to you?
I created it because I wanted it for myself.  Isn’t that how so much of life works? And doesn’t it feel so real that way?  Writing can be so isolating and alone and quite honestly, can drive you a bit batty if you are doing it not only for your creative process and joy, but also for work- which is what I do.  I was doing so much writing work for clients and also doing all the story branding for Amulet, the field guide I publish-  that I felt I was losing my own voice {which isn’t always bad because finding a new one is always exciting}. I wanted community around this- the highs and lows of writing.  I wanted to gather writers, as guides who hold impeccable and raw space, because I needed to be held.  And I wanted to invite those who were ready to claim their Voice because I was so ready to re-claim mine.  So I asked, and I got a hell of a lot of yeses. And so I knew it was meant to be.  And it means the world to me. Like, I am almost wordless around it.  But I am smiling. And clutching my heart. And nodding my head yes. And maybe even holding my fist in the air. 
There are so many different types of writing courses available online, and each of them have their own unique offerings and worth. Tell us what it is about Our Word that makes it unique? What will people experience in this course that they can’t get elsewhere?
What makes this special to me is that there is no “teaching”.  There is no right or wrong.  There is no workshopping. There are no deadlines.  There is no end result.  This course is truly about the process, and that the process is the reward, the fruit, the jewel, the healing, the best kind of writing for our soul’s awakenings.  It’s about intuitive writing which to me means the writing that sits bubbling under the surface of the skin, that courses through the blood, that lays dormant in the hips.  And when we unleash it we are kind of in awe about what we have to say, like,  “Holy fuck! I had no idea that I felt that way or needed to say that or that I believed in that…” etc. Another thing I love about it is that there are 5 guides, myself and 4 other incredible humans/writers who are not there to teach but to subtly hold space and offer spectacular stories, content, and prompts each day of the weeks.  So you get a lovely variety of people, real diversity.  This session’s “themes” spanned from Place, Truth, Naming, Embodied, and Vision.  And really, it all boils down to the One Truth anyway, ya know?  It’s just so much fun to take different paths to it.  
Also, you can take Our Word on your own time or you can do it with a group of us who gather together on a private forum.  You can share your writing or you don’t have to share your writing.  You can show up or you don’t have to.  The point is WE all trust the process, that is what we are all about: trusting this process. You wanna be a writer? Well you are. This doesn’t mean ‘writing something amazing every day’ or even to write every single day.  I think that’s all bullshit.  Writing is an art, it’s creation’s breath, it’s the stories of our lives and the lives of the multiverse. It’s a spiritual practice. It is prayer. Mantra.  Intention, in my opinion, is bigger and bolder than writing brilliant words every single day.  The intention that your intuition guides you in writing truth. For me,  that’s the golden key to writing bliss, that right there. 
I’ve heard so many people express that they’d love to take a writing course, but they’re afraid. Afraid of being out of their league, afraid of being the least talented person in the group, afraid of being revealed as not a “real” writer. If someone is feeling that way, and they’re wondering if Our Word is right for them, what should they know?
We have people in the class from age 17 to age 70.  We have people who haven’t written their entire lives.  We have people who have haven been published and are read internationally.  We have some seriously badass wordsmiths.  And we have people who are bursting out fire and brimstone and messy, raw beauty.  This is a collective, a space for us all.  This is not about good or bad.  Right or wrong.  This isn’t about publishing. This is about showing up because it’s something you want.  The tenderness and kindness and compassion that Our Word participants and guides offer is like heart-splitting.  I am humbled and honored and blown away by how we all have each other’s back.  And we all do our best to share the love.  And really, when you write unapolegeticaly, it’s always amazing, right? I encourage everyone to share their raw, unedited stuff {as well as their revised stuff}.  This is about voice.  How can voice be ‘real’ or ‘unreal’? It’s Voice. It’s the vibration and form we put to our experiences.  Sometimes it ain’t pretty.  But it’s always magnificent and alive.  If you sign up for Our Word- you are a real writer and every one in the space honors that.  We don’t throw around pedigree in there.  We are all peers, and are all in the dark, mucky bog, as well as walking the illuminated path together.  And it’s beautiful.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What type of people will get the most out of Our Word?
People who enjoy throwing words around.  People who are looking to cultivate or expand their Voice.  People who are looking for community, to share their process, and give support to others.  People who want to create space and time in their lives to write and tell stories. People who love.  People who pay attention.  People who believe that stories can heal, blow-up blocks, and turn the world inside out.  I think it’s for anyone who wants to practice writing. And anybody how knows how to be truthful, kind, respectful, and creative.
You wear a lot of hats. You’re an entrepreneur, a writer, a yogini, one hell of a dancer, a woman, a partner, a mama… and I know I’m missing dozens of things; that’s just a small sampling. How do you balance it all? Do you balance it all? Do you even believe in work/life balance? What the hell does balance mean, anyway?
Balance as something to “achieve” is an illusion.  This is interesting that you ask.  I was at the beach last week with 2 beautiful sisters, doing a releasing ceremony around a totally illegal beach fire.  And during the ceremony I pulled a card that was Balance.  Balance is a practice. There is no end result that is actually balanced.  I think it’s about leaning into this and then leaning into that.  Then rocking this way and then rocking that way.  I think it is putting things down and picking things up.  I think it’s about walking away and walking closer.  
In general,  I am scattered. Chaos. Wildfire. Do too much.  Need to slow down.  But also, my arrow is steady.  I have vision. And so I do what it is front of me.  I breathe.  I sway.  I try to grow roots down into the earth so I don’t fall.  When I do fall, which is very often,  I get back up. Also, your advice on making a big master list, working in 90 minute intervals, and doing my work early in the morning has helped me feel so much saner. 
So yeah. Balance.  It’s like dancing. I think balance is just going out to dance more and also sitting alone some more and also knowing how much to carry at any given moment. 
Putting together any sort of class, especially one held online, comes with its own set of challenges. What are some of the challenges you faced while creating this amazing course?
Seriously? I don’t think I had any challenges. I know it sounds crazy, but the women I asked to guide last Fall and this Spring showed up fully, and delivered content that cracked my brain into a thousand pieces.  I had amazing technical support from Danielle at Elevated Synergy, making sure the website was doing what it was supposed to do, and also, I have a Virtual Angel/Assistant, Pamela Rudisill, who just knows exactly what to do when I feel like too many emails are coming in or Mailchimp isn’t working.  
Okay, so, being honest, I need to say this- I was challenged.   I worried I was not worthy of creating this.  I was worried I wasn’t “good” enough or that people wouldn’t want to do it.  I had to really work through that.  Because much of this course is about my life work of holding space for Voice to be be Born. And so of course, it was big for me, and it was deep, and it was scary. And I had to work through a lot of my own bullshit to remember that I wasn’t the best writer, or best guide, or best anything at all, and that was okay.  But that this was important. And needed. And that who was meant to come into this circle would.  It wasn’t easy for me to release that doubt.  But when I did, it was like all unicorns and rainbows and whiskey + gingers, for real. It was all love.  
I know that the current Our Word course is already in session. When is the next one happening?
My intention is to do every fall and every spring.  So I am thinking right around the beginning of October will be the next session.  
There are a lot of people out there putting their creative needs and desires last. I see this across the board, but in particular with mothers. All too often, it’s thought of as a luxury. It’s something that gets squeezed in while running from here to there, putting the needs and wants of children, partners, the household, friends, extended family, and the dog first. Do you have any advice on making the creative process a priority?
Oh girl.  It’s so hard.  For a really long time, pregnancy, birth, nursing, mothering, and cooking was my creative process {and blogging}.  I think that there was this natural and organic process that happened when the kids started to need me a little less.  And I created the space in those times when they didn’t need me.  I created space to create.  And that could look a million different ways: yoga, a hike in nature, lying on the beach, alone with my journal, diving deep into my tarot cards.  It isn’t a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  That I can say for sure.  Because when I am creative on a level beyond mothering {although mothering is a source of all my creation, that is my truth} I am a better human and I am living my path.  And i want my children to see that me.  By not giving myself that time, and not allowing them to see me grow is a disservice to them.  So when I think about my creative work, I think of it not just for myself or the people I am offering myself up to, but I think about how it is a gift to them- that they can receive a mother who is on the path of Wholeness, a whole person.  And that will give them permission to be whole and creative,  and really, to be who they are.  And that is all I want for them, is for them to be who they came here to be.  So it’s full circle, really.  We are all One.
Music for the Muse. What do you like to listen to while you write?
Fleet Foxes, Big Star, Superchunk, Warpaint, Bon Iver, Laura Marling, JJ Cale, The National… I like mellow music that doesn’t jolt me.  This isn’t the kind of stuff I like to dance to, or drive to, or cook to.  But I love jazzy, bluesy, acoustic stuff that just flows, to write to.  My friend Courtney has an AMAZING playlist I am listening to right now as I type called Music To Work To.  She has curated the flow so that it all feel like one lovely ride, without any tempo shifts or loud changes.  Let me know if you want her spotify info because she’s my favorite spotify dj! Big Up, Courtney! 
Tell me something good. Anything. Whatever pops into your head in this moment.
Oh my god, I want buttermilk fried chicken in this moment so badly I can taste it. And I want to dip it in wasabi ranch dressing.  I want another tattoo right now, on my right hip.  I want to go swim in the warm waters of the Caribbean.  Also, I cannot wait to go to New Orleans at the end of this month with Beyond.  I can smell that place as I type these words.  I am literally tingly down there thinking about it! 
And also. I love you. You are such a muse. 
Well, damn. I am so glad I asked. I love you, too. Mutual love and muse-dom all up in here right now. 
MB
I am a mother, writer, teacher, alchemist, and lyrical gangster.  I throw down tarot stories and rattle broken bones back together. Chicory root in the morning opens my eyes, and caramel in the fall turns me right on.  I happily weave back and forth from the mossy, lady ferned forest to the heavy bass and downbeat of the city against my bare legs.  There is something about both blood and fire that pulls me back and forward and makes me want to know more about the things that have been hidden, the secrets. There is something about it all, everything under the sun, that makes me open my palms and place them over my heart in pure devotion.
You can read me at all these places:
www.marybethbonfiglio.com {where you can find more out about Our Word}

Dominate: The Mini-Con Welcomes Doug Anderson

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Doug Anderson’s first full length book of poems, The Moon Reflected Fire, received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Blues for Unemployed Secret Police, won a grant from the Academy of American Poets.  He has received awards and fellowships from many organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, The Massachusetts Artists Foundation, Poets & Writers, The Virginia Quarterly Review.  His memoir, Keep Your Head Down, about Vietnam and the 1960s, was published by W.W. Norton in 2009.  He is also a visual artist, and teaches in the Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College in Boston.

Collaboration is an important part of the creative process, but it doesn’t always come easily. For many artists and entrepreneurs, myself included, the line between our endeavors and our Selves is thin.

We pour our hearts and souls into our work. We aren’t just offering an inanimate thing to our customers and clients, we offer up pieces of our being. This is good. This is what makes our offerings worthwhile.

But it can also be scary. Especially when we open up beyond just giving ourselves to the work, but including other people in our process. It’s a statement of faith and a handing over of trust.

When I came up with the idea to hold a mini-con this summer, I immediately knew that I didn’t want to be the only guide. I also knew that if I decided to invite other people to offer workshops, I needed them to be people I know well and trust implicitly.

I love my job. I care deeply for the people with whom I work. Before you’ve even told me your name, I am thinking about how our time together will affect you and your work. I care that you receive something valuable in exchange for your money. I care that you feel seen and heard. I care that you are treated with respect and kindness. Anything less than that is less than I want for you.

I had zero hesitation about inviting Doug to teach a three-hour writing workshop. The decision was as solid and crystal clear as a diamond. I know Doug’s writing. I also know him as a friend. I trust his skill and his character implicitly. I would trust him with my life, and I trust him with my clients.

Not only is Doug an accomplished writer and respected teacher, he’s hella good fun. His wit, intellect, and kindness, combined with his professional and creative background, make him a perfect fit for our weekend together.

If you’re feeling any sort of hesitation or fear about writing in a group setting, relax your shoulders and take a deep breath. It doesn’t matter if you’re attending this conference because you want to write a novel or you knit sweaters for a living, I promise you that this writing intensive will be worthwhile.

I’m so excited to have the opportunity to invite you to learn with Doug Anderson. We’re going to have a blast! Join us in July.