What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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Stealing Time

Stealing Time

I am not what you’d call a fast writer.

I’m also not great at fitting writing into little nooks and crannies. In order to get anything down that makes sense, I need decent chunks of time. In my next life I’ll be super productive (I’ll also play the banjo, have delicate ankles and a good sense of direction), but for now I  have to accommodate this weakness.

Because we homeschool, solitude is in short supply, so I schedule a few hours on the two days when both my kids are in class, and I try hard to keep that appointment with myself.

I haven’t told many people about my writing time until now.

It feels undeserved. I haven’t done anything to earn it, in fact it actually costs me five bucks every time, on account of the dirty chai latte my thirsty muse requires.

But my life is full of things I don’t deserve. I am privileged AF.

PS: This is weirdly hard to talk about.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry compared the two kinds of naked? There was the attractive naked, he said, e.i. naked while brushing your hair, and the unattractive naked, i.e. naked while opening a pickle jar?

Stay with me.

Right now, I feel like I am naked, opening the pickle jar.

I imagine you wondering why, if I have this time

  • Do I have so many typos and grammatical screw-ups on my blog?
  • Don’t I employ a fucking thesaurus instead of resorting to all the four letter words since they are (I’ve been told) just lazy writing.
  • Do I not donate those five hours to helping others, instead of contemplating every waking moment of my completely regular life.
  • And finally, with all that time, why don’t I get a job, or a degree, or at least a gym membership, for gods sake??

If you’re not wondering those things don’t worry, because I certainly am.

I told a friend on Facebook recently that when I hear that critical voice I try think of it as a man named, oddly enough, Donald, and I like to tell Donald to shut the fuck up.

Try it. It’s satisfying on many levels.

Donald thinks he knows what people should do. He thinks money is the same as value. He thinks the world has enough blogs, paintings, poems, popsicle trucks and hamster sanctuaries, so zip it already and just be happy driving the carpool.

Telling Donald to back off  keeps me writing, and keeps me holding on to the hours I need to do it, but it’s not easy.

This morning I was talking to my friend Jo Dee, and I told her about my weekly writing date and how I’ve kept it secret because it feels self indulgent. Like a great pal, she didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s not self-indulgent, it’s your job.”

“Jo Dee, it is so not my job.”

“Writing is absolutely part of your job.”

“Writing is how I keep from going insane.”

“Well maybe that is your job… no offense.”

Ouch. That left a mark, but I loved her for it.

Up till now, I’ve hid my secret by just saying “I have some errands to run” or “things to do,” stopping short of actually lying, but not by much.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she suggests treating your creative time like you would an affair. If you had a hot lover on the side, she says, you would steal any time you could to be with them. You would lie, you would sneak, anything would be worth just a few hours. She suggested we treat our creative time like that.

I love her analogy because that is exactly how I feel!

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Here’s Mark Ruffalo giving me a writing prompt. “Twenty minutes on your best meal ever– go, baby, go.”
As Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants.” Time is a luxury I can’t pay for, but I want it all the same.

So I steal it.

I steal it from my from my family, my community, the causes I support, and all the other things I tell myself a good person does.

When I was a teenager, my father once said to me, “You’re no bargain, Mag.”

That explains a lot, I thought.

Who knows what he was talking about. It might have had something to do with me being a pain in the ass, because I totally was. He didn’t know that I would drag those words behind me for the rest of my life like a corpse, forever trying to be what I thought he wanted: a bargain.

But I would never feel like one.

So when I was saying good-bye to Jo Dee this morning, she told me to enjoy my writing  time. “Don’t lie about it,” she said. “Own it!”

But is it possible to own something you’ve stolen?

Maybe I should stop shaming on it and just say it. “I’m going to be writing from 9-12 today at the cafe across from the Indian grocery. I’ll be home after that.”

Bam. Just like that.

I am aware that it is not fair.

I am aware that I am not bringing in a dime with my writing. Not a dime. Probably ever.

I am aware that there are some things that don’t get done because I am here, from 9-12, at the cafe, across from the Indian grocery.

I am aware that Daddy may have been right. I am not a bargain.

But I am

free.

 

 

So Now What Am I Supposed To Do?

So Now What Am I Supposed To Do?

Well that sure was a curveball.

I have friends who write who have managed to rise to the occasion in the past week. My friend and teacher Jesse Rosen always posts on Wednesdays, so she actually had to come up with something to say the day after the shit hit the fan. And she did, here.

She’s a stronger woman than I.

I just can’t get blood from a turnip this week, you guys. But I love you for being here, for checking in, and for just having it in you to get up and face the day,

and the next four years

of days.

I  attended a service this past Sunday at my beloved, struggling, ass-kicking Unitarian Universalist church. I’m not gonna preach, but let me just say that if you’re looking to get involved in the work that will heal our country, but you’re not sure where to start, try checking out your local UU church. If for whatever reason you’re a little freaked out by the word church, trust me that these are safe places. All are welcome.

The service was just what I needed: full of hope, some tears, but mostly practical advice about what each of us can do to help.

I love practical advice. I fucking love a good hack.

Our minister (who blogs here) also talked a bit about the need for self care during this time. While we are called to step up and pitch in as never before, we are also required to listen to our bodies and souls, and know our limits.

So, in the spirit of practicality and self-care, I decided to look back in the archives and find a blog post that I could use for today.

This one seems like it could work.

In it, I talk about how I sometimes do a little meditation that helps me with fear. A lot of people are afraid right now, and with good reason. As for myself, I might try it with the word “grief.” Because that’s what is heavy on my heart right now.

Then I thought about a different post from a while back, one that dealt with a long held grudge of mine. Like so much else before November 8th, 2016, that old grievance seems unimportant from where I stand today, but I’ll probably be using the meditation a lot in the coming months. Here’s a chunk of that post:

As time passed, and my grudge still nagged at me, I decided to do a little research. Tich Naht Han wrote a whole book on anger. In it, he suggests we “take care of” our anger:

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

The idea of embracing my feisty little anger-baby, stroking it and singing it Beatle’s songs, sounded like a nice change, but also kind of creeped me out, though I can’t exactly say why.

I decided to give it my own spin and, with props to Tich Naht Han for the inspiration, came up with this mini-meditation hack for when you can’t let go of being pissed. Feel free to play along:

First, I close my eyes and imagine my grudge. Not the person I’m holding it against, but the actual anger, the whole fiery, dangerous, white hot thing. My grudge is roughly the size of my son’s Nerf basketball, or one of those mini-watermelons that seem like a good idea, but are totally not worth the money. Anyhooo…

I hold it in my hands and see that it is beautiful,

orange and red and yellow.

I feel its warmth.

I don’t try to cool it down or make it smaller.

I don’t try to make it be nice.

I take care of it.

Holding it in my hands reminds me that it isn’t part of me, it’s a thing I am holding:

Anger.

When I do this meditation now, I feel empowered. I DO want to take care of my anger, because it will help get my ass off the couch. 

I’m just not sure about blogging right now.

Not only because there’s so much important work to do, and the time to volunteer and write letters and make phone calls has to come from somewhere.

There’s also this.

 

We all need to do the work that is ours to do. And no one is going to wait, holding the door for me until I have the courage to get on with things. So I’ve been thinking about what work is mine to do.

Sigh. I’m just at sixes and sevens, to use a phrase that I like but have no idea what the fuck it means. (See? I have no business writing a blog. Who says that??)

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting here, but I do know that I won’t be posting a lot about politics. You don’t need to hear what I have to say on the topic, believe me. Here’s what I do: I think up stories in my head, and write about my regular old life in the San Fernando Valley. And right now, I’m not sure about anything.

Take care of each other.

Peace, friends.

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This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

I could not come up with anything to write last week.

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I guess it’s more accurate to say that, although I did come up with something last week, I could not stand to publish what I came up with last week.

I could not stand for one more minute, the sentences beginning with I,

the licking out of every corner of my mind.

And then presenting it for you to read?

Unthinkable.

“If you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t do it,” my husband sometimes tells me.

“But I am. I am enjoying it,” I tell him right back.

I enjoy learning that what catches my eye isn’t always the shiny thing, like it was when I was younger. At fifty, I’m not afraid to reach in and pluck the dark moments of any given day. Writing about them, I find they are like berries, the darker the sweeter.

I even enjoy the things about blogging that make me want to take an ice-pick to my computer screen.

Things like software issues, algorithms, SEO optimization and grammar zealots. Last week, after I posted this, I got an email from someone telling me that I should get a proofreader, as I had misused it’s and its several times.

And you know what?

I loved her for that.

In another situation I probably would have gotten shitty about her comment. “That wasn’t the point,” I might have shot back, in defense of myself. I might have made her wrong to whoever would listen, only later taking a bath in my own shame, thinking, it’s true. I’m not smart enough to do this. Everyone sees it.

But because I want to improve my writing more than I want to bubblewrap my ego, and because she was absolutely right, I corrected the mistakes she pointed out (there are many more, I know) and gave a silent prayer gratitude for her suggestions, and for my own surprising ability to not be a jerk about it.

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So yes, I love writing here.

Then what’s the problem? Why am I so worried that I’m taking up this tiny bit of space that should be given to someone else?

Sandra Cisneros gave this piece of advice: “Do not write about what you remember. Write about what you wish you could forget.”

It is Christmas afternoon and my mother is yelling at me that the gifts I made for her and my father were an embarrassment. I had not taken the time I should have, she stands over me and yells, to make sure they were done well. She tells me that I am selfish, thinking I could give him that awful ashtray with “Daddy” painted in red over blue paint that had not yet dried. The paint smeared and looked muddy.

Slapdash.

Mama is furious because, even though I am in third grade, I should know what is high quality work and what is not. That plywood I had been so happy to find under the house, on which I painted a picture of a fish and a ferris wheel for her, was still rough, she yells. It should have been sanded, goddamnit. I should be ashamed, she says, before slamming her bedroom door.

And I am, because she is an artist, and my mother, so she knows.

I never told anyone this story because it always seemed both too sad and also not sad enough to make for interesting conversation, but eventually, I shared it for the first time with a therapist. I couldn’t understand why this quick scene wrecked me when I thought of it.

“That’s must have hurt when your mother said those things,” she said.

“Yeah, but she had a point,” I smiled and shrugged.

“What do you mean?”

“I could have done better.”

“You were in third grade and these were gifts you had made. For her. Who cares if you could have done better?”

“I know, but I knew the paint was wet,” I reason. “And I should have sanded the edges of that painting. She was right.” My therapist looked at me a long time, the way they do. My mother’s words, like a splinter, were in too deep.

Then decades pass. I have not seen my mother in many years. When she is hospitalized, I go to clean out her apartment, where I find stacks of her sculptures, and an outside storage unit filled to the ceiling with even more.IMG_6571 (1)

Taped to many of the pieces are notes describing how they could be improved. Some read like passionate letters of apology, full of frustration and plans of how to make it right next time.

She was in love.

She was in love with the process of creating but her work,  precious in her own eyes, was never, ever good enough for the eyes of others. So she packed all those sculptures away until she died.

The healing of shame is a lifelong process, and the shitty part of it is that the only way I’ve found to heal shame is to let myself feel it.

To write the sentences that begin with I.

When the time came to post on this blog last week and what I had to say seemed half-baked, I picked at that scab a little bit.

Amateur.

Uneducated.

Bored housewife.

This week I wrote what you are looking at right now. I could (part of me thinks that I should) just put it in a box labelled “Proofread. Needs work.” I could leave it to the real writers, wait until my boys are grown, until I get an M.A. (or even a B.A.), or some other permission slip from the People On Top. Until I learn, once and for all, the difference between it’s and its.

Instead, I’m giving it away.

Fuck it.

Because that’s what a personal blog is all about.

Oh, heads up, the edges are a little rough.

 

 

Dear Diary, Dear Pen

Dear Diary, Dear Pen

I knew it was only a matter of time.

I knew, after committing to writing a blog post every week, that there would be a week where I had nothing.

Nothing to say that hadn’t been said a million times before and way better.

My life? Snore.

Parenting? Whatever.

Writing, aging, personal growth, marriage, friendship– I scrolled through my mental Pinterest board of all the usual topics, and came up empty this week.

Hearing the scrawny bastard critic in the corner sneering, “See? You’ve got nothing to say. Leave it to the professionals, won’t you?” I sat and took a breath.

That shut him up.

Then I looked right in front of me, because someone told me, or I read, or I made up, that you can just write about what you see. The first thing I saw was my journal, the second, my pen.

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in second or third grade. Sometimes they were picture journals, where I would draw ads for movies I’d seen, or practice my fancy autograph with different last names, depending on my latest celebrity crush.

Maggie Cassidy,

Maggie Osmond,

Maggie Gibb.

It was kind of a scrapbook, really. Since then my personal writing has evolved to serve all kinds of purposes, from list making, to venting, to meditation. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

And so, dear reader, I submit to you a blog post about the humble journal.

I am not an expert on anything, but after nearly forty years of pouring my thoughts onto private pages, I feel like I know a thing or two about what makes a good journal, so how about I share those with you now? Actually, life is short, and you’re busy. I’ll just tell you the best journal and you’ll have to trust me on this.

The best journal is this one, by Plumb Notebooks.81Sj8uFekAL._SX466_ I make no disclaimers, because I really think it is the best and here’s why:

This journal will set you back around $22.00, but I think it’s worth it. It is a beautiful color, with unlined paper that’s heavy enough so ink doesn’t bleed through, and shaggy edges that will make you feel very classy. Also, it’s bound in such a way that it lies flat when it’s open. You don’t have to put your coffee cup on it to hold it open when you write, which is lovely.

One of my favorite writers on writing, Natalie Goldberg, says you should use cheap spiral notebooks for journaling and what I call Writerly Diddling. The idea is that, if you write in a plain cheapo notebook, you won’t be so precious about your writing and the pressure will ease up.

First of all, journaling doesn’t involve any pressure, unless you’re hoping to unearth a memoir or something like that. And, even if you are using your journal as a kind of compost bin for other writing (a great idea, by the way), writing in those sad schoolish notebooks just isn’t as much fun. Maybe it’s the flashbacks from seventh grade, or the way the wire thingy comes uncurled and snags my sweater, but I like a journal that in no way reminds me of Geometry homework.

This one is chunky enough to feel important, and squat enough that it can fit into my purse. (PS: If you find that this journal is too big for your purse, just get a different purse. Someone told me that a big purse makes your ass look smaller, so it’s a win-win!)

I’m a little scared of how I’ll feel when this particular journal goes out of print. I’ve bought a few extra, which should get me through the next year and a half, but that doesn’t do much to calm my nerves around the possibility of having to find a new favorite. For now, I’m just trying to live in the moment.

Since we’re on the subject, and since I’m on a roll and seem to be, if I am not mistaken, actually writing a blog post, which only fifteen minutes ago I thought was completely impossible, let’s talk about the pen.

What’s the best pen?

You might have your own opinions, and if you do, please share them in the comments. Unlike my deep and stedfast attachment to my journal, I’m not completely sure I’ve found the perfect pen. I have, however, found a really great one:

Papermate Ink Joy

55008e8817716-paper-mate-inkjoy-700-rt-ballpoint-retractable-xlI’ve been a big fan of the unfortunately named “Uniball” for a really long time, but they’re a little spendy, and sometimes they smudge or leak onto the seat of my car. I liked the Sharpee pens for a while because they were waterproof and pretty cheap, but they had a drag on them and slowed me down. The Papermate Ink Joy is, in many ways, a regular old ballpoint which of course I love, but it has the smooth speed of a more expensive pen.

So, clearly this is not a post that will change the world. But I do believe that writing at least helps the world, whether it’s a novel, a news story or just a page in a journal.

Not that I go back and read them that often, which makes some non-journaling friends ask, “Then what’s the point?”

Good question, and a good question usually has more than one answer.

I do it because it helps me remember.

And because it helps me forget.

An argument with my husband, scrawled out as fast as I can, pressing down on the front and back of as many pages as it takes is then, like a paper boat, set sail downstream. Most of the time, I never see it again.

Forgotten.

(I believe skillful forgetting is a really good thing in a marriage.)

And as for remembering…

I turn to a page written when we were in Hawaii last summer, and it’s there. The night we went swimming in the pool, my boys and I, and took turns holding each other on our backs, floating around in the moonlight. The stars are there, and also the sweetness of my twelve year old son towing me gently around the pool, his palms on my back. It’s written there, that I felt the tables turn for the first time.

My memory leaks like a cheap ballpoint, and I’m so grateful to my journal for capturing and preserving that moment.

So, that’s what’s right in front of me. What’s in front of you?

Write about it 🙂

 

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(don’t) Burn This

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I’m stuck on this thing I’ve been writing.

That’s not an excuse, it’s just the way it is. It’s a piece of fiction, drawn heavily from my own experience, and I’ve been chipping away at it for so long that I’m embarrassed to say.

Ok, fifteen years. Fifteen years, you guys!

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long. I had a few kids, moved a few times, wrote other things, painted a little, mostly to avoid writing. Mixed in there was work and a few deaths and…well, I have my reasons. But lately I’ve been back at work on it, only, after so long, it barely makes sense to me anymore. Although I’m attached to the characters, and I like some of the story, I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, and that’s driving me nuts. A mentor of mine keeps saying not to worry about that, but I can’t help it.

OK, I’ll only admit this here: I want a guarantee that it will be at least a little good. No one gets that guarantee, of course, and that’s what has made me leave it in a drawer for long stretches of time, sometimes years. After reading that crazy tidying-up book, I went on a binging binge. I found the files on my computer labelled STORY, and dragged them into the trash. I took the box of notes, handwritten pages and chapters I’d printed out, and dumped them in the compost. Then I pulled them out. Finally, I left them, smeared with coffee grounds, on the floor under my desk and waited for the nerve to cut the cord (and my losses) and move on.

Then this happened:

My friend Wendy asked if I could come over and help make some decorations for a big event at our UU church. I said sure, and was looking forward to spending an afternoon crafting it up, cutting and stringing and doing whatever else she told me to do. A few other women would be there, and the three of them would most certainly be on to something amazing, I thought. These three together remind me of those witches from Sleeping Beauty, only more badass, with power tools and oil paint. They are artists. Magicians, in a way, or at least that’s how I think of them. They just seem to know how to make the ordinary beautiful. I was happy to be their lowly helper for the afternoon, in whatever they were cooking up.

I was a little surprised when I got there and in her driveway was, to use an expression that I really hate but sometimes fits the bill— a hot mess. There were huge pieces of paper, recycled something or other, splashed with opaque watercolors and smeared, preschool style, with some glitter thrown in there. My friends were circling their work with brows furrowed, swooshing brushes over it in wide arcs. Wendy got an idea and came back from the depths of her garage with a big box of still more paper—patterns, mismatched, some awesome and retro, some downright hideous. The other two brightened.

“Should we splash those too?”

“Yes. Uniformity!” They began the same process with the paint, the splattering and laughing. When the wind began to blow them away, Wendy insisted we could just chase them down when we were all done, but then ran away and came back with an armful of gigantic homemade hula hoops, to weigh the papers down. (Duh.)

“Who set their paint bottle down here?” Jill asked. It’s true, someone had left  dark purple ring on the paper. Uh-oh, I thought, that can’t be good.

“Oh, that was me,” Dena answered, sweeping her brush over a puddle of fuchsia.

Jill smiled wide. “I like it!”

When the wind died down, we stopped and hula hooped for a spell. You know, like you do. We worked up a good sweat.

After the paper dried, we went inside and tried to un-purple our hands, but it was no use. A few ginger snaps later, we sat at the kitchen table and we cut. We folded. We talked about politics and sex and movies. Looking around, I saw our mess evolving into something, not exactly great, but not so bad, either. And then, gradually, into something pretty, with hints of fucking brilliance! How did it happen?

“If I had been doing this by myself, I would have given up a long time ago,” I said, folding and snipping the painted paper, careful to sweep scraps into a bag by my feet. “I would have burned it in the driveway, when it was so ugly.”

“No, that’s when you have to keep going,” Jill said, looking over her glasses at me. The other two laughed a little (laughter might be their secret ingredient), and kept snipping.

“I want to burn everything I make at least once in the process,” Wendy added.

“Really??” This, I couldn’t believe. Even though I’d only seen her finished products, the drawings, decorated cakes, jewelry, clothes, rugs, gardens, and meals, art just seemed to grow around Wendy like weeds, uncultivated and effortless.

Dena pointed her rusty scissors in my direction. “It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, at some point you’ll think it’s shit. But you keep layering. Or taking away. Or whatever. Eventually it takes shape.”

They nodded, knowing just what she meant, and went on to talk about something else.

Over the course of a few hours, that pile of trash in the driveway became something more. Something beautiful and useful. A gift. And those women, who I had decided belonged to a coven of the gifted and talented, revealed themselves to be, also, much more: They were hard working makers, who had the same doubts as me, but trusted the process more.

I got the message.

On my way out, that afternoon, Wendy called to me, “Take a hula hoop with you!” I did, of course. But she gave me else. She gave me a blessing, without even knowing it, and it was this: You’ll want to burn it, we all do. Don’t. Take a breath and a hula-hoop break. Get messy, use your mistakes, and above all, keep on going.

Ten Guidelines For Starting Your Own Writing Group

Writers need other writers. It’s good for us to get together for feedback, encouragement and, for some of us, accountability. When I was ready to get back to writing after a long dry spell I’d like to blame on motherhood but probably can’t, I knew that some kind of writing group was a must, but I just wasn’t up for shelling out the bucks for a class. I tend not to be much of a DIY-er. If I have the money and can throw it at a problem, I usually will. Is this my finest quality? Hardly, but if there is a silver lining to aging, it’s that I finally know who I am. In this case, however, my desire to save money and accommodate a busy schedule won out over my tendency toward sloth, and I put together my own writing group. I’ve been in several of these through the years, some were successful and some fell apart almost immediately, and so I’ve learned a few things. Of course, as in any relationship, there’s an element of timing and chemistry, but it’s not all luck. If you think meeting regularly with a group of writers sounds like something that would nurture you creatively and get you to finally finish that novel, then here are a few tips to help you make it happen.

1) Like the members of your group, but not too much. If you like them too much you’ll spend your time talking smack and not writing. Choose smart people you know want to write, and who you can enjoy being with for a few hours at a time.

2) The group should be more than three people and less than eight. Too few and you fall apart when someone get’s a little busy and can’t make it, too many and meetings run long without enough time for everyone’s work. Personally, I’d shoot for six members.

3) If you can, have a mixed gender group. It spices things up. But remember…

4) Do not hook up with anyone in your writing group. I’ve been married for a while so this hasn’t been an issue, but back in the day it was a sure way to wreck a good thing. There are many reasons for this, but since we’re all adults here, I’m sure you know what I mean.

5) Speaking of us being all adults, let’s keep it that way, shall we? I’m a mom, I know it can be hard to get away from the kids to meet with a group of writers, but you’re just going to have to McGiver some form of childcare and spend a few hours on your work. Kids make us clean up our language and force us to behave. Neither of those has any place in your writing group.

6) This one hurts me more than it hurts you, but I don’t think you should drink any alcohol during your meeting. It increases the chance that you will spend your precious three hours sharing hair removal tips and posting pictures of your group on Instagram. Gather for happy hour to celebrate each other’s success and hard work, but stick to tea for your meetings.

7) Write a little bit, every time you meet. I don’t know why this matters, but it does. Think of it as the virgin sacrifice you make to your muses. When you start the group with a quick writing exercise (even ten minutes will do), you show the Universe you mean business.

8) Be gentle in your critique, but don’t bullshit. You have all set aside time, fought traffic, found childcare and declined all manner of fun social engagements to come together and get and give feedback that will make your work better. Assuming none of the members of your group are jerks, they want to hear your honest thoughts and you should want to hear theirs. You know the drill, “do unto others…”

9) Meet at least once a month. Once a week is the best, but not realistic for everyone, so do what you can. Consistency is key. Every week, every other week, whenever, but make it the same time and day and stick to it. I’m not kidding about this. The muses get real vindictive when you flake on your meetings, so show up.

10) Sharing your work with others can be the scariest thing in the world, which is why you shouldn’t forget your sense of humor. Be willing to laugh at yourself; how your hands shake when you read aloud, your adverb-y prose and your attempt to write your mommy-blog in the style of Junot Diaz. Writing is hard, and while you want to honor your efforts with serious attention, as Anne LaMott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” If we can laugh together it lights our path so, you know, we don’t step on a slug or something.

(PS: If I had read this to my group before posting, they would have told me to cut that line about the slug. See? We all need a fresh eye.)

Now go forth, find a handful of people who want to write and start your group. It may last a month or a decade, but no matter, you will be a better writer for it. Stories are meant to be shared, and until those offers from agents start pouring in, you’ve got each other.