Writing

A Glorious Freedom

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Today is a special day for me. A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon, was released today and I’m thrilled my essay, “True Roots” is included! The book is about women over the age of 40 who are thriving.

I’m over the moon to be included in this book because I feel a huge positive shift in my life as I age, AND because my essay mingles with so many of my heroes from the literary world and beyond. Cheryl Strayed, Vera Wang, Christy Turlington Burns, Debbie Millman, Dara Torres, and many others contributed to the book. And check out who wrote the opening in the introduction…

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life—it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I would be.” – Anne Lamott

Here’s an excerpt from my essay, “True Roots.”

“As I took a seat beside my colleagues at a business meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss toxic chemical reform, I could already feel my scalp tighten. The environmental scientist we were listening to began discussing low-level chemical buildup left in our bodies by personal care products. As she rattled off a list of chemicals, I was struck by a profound contradiction in my own life.  

I work for a large environmental organization. In three years, I would turn sixty. Like many women who care about their appearance, for more than twenty-five years, I had joined the ranks of the 75 percent of US women who color their hair. My personal aim for coloring was “natural-looking” hair to complement my natural lifestyle. To achieve this, I spent hours upon hours, and thousands of dollars, attempting to embody the hair color company’s slogan, “hair color unique to you.” But who was I kidding? Whatever was unique to me was buried under layers and layers of hair dye…”

I shared on Instagram a cute video that author/illustrator, Lisa Congdon created for the book. She says about A Glorious Freedom, “No matter what your age or gender, may each of you find inspiration in this book to live bravely and fully, and to use your experience as your most powerful tool in living your best life.”

Taking Flight, Again

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Last year, Phoebe, our winged resident, built her nest in one of two Arroyo Craftsman lights that frame the front door. Each year, I marvel at why she chooses the busiest location to tend to her nest, as she has a hissy fit — tail flicking, stressed alarm calls — every time the screen door opens and closes. Despite the coming and going disturbances, she keeps showing up each year to tend to her latest brood.

Peering around the corner from my summer office, the screened-in porch, I watched the building take shape. My front door, with its lopsided entrance, one light adorned with twigs and branches, the other naked, winked daringly to keep my distance.

It reminded me not to leave behind my work utensils on the commute from kitchen to porch.

Computer, check…glasses, check…phone and headphones, check…cloth napkin, check (have been known to spill while groping for the teacup in a computer trance)…

With loving care, Phoebe folded the natural bedding round and round until the little nest fit her perfectly. Then she sat, shimmying from side to side, watchful eyes aimed at the porch. One day, her peeping took on a fevered pitch and she was done sitting — hatched — five tiny, translucent bodies with open wide beaks peeking over the top of the nest.

Then came a soaking rainstorm. In the early morning hours, the summer sky opened to a deluge of windswept water. When the riot subsided, I tiptoed out to the porch, arms full of work paraphernalia, focused on not slipping on the slick deck. Stepping into the safety of the porch, I noticed the silence. No mother/child chorus. No movement above the light. Dead quiet.

Right about this time, my writing ebbed.

For months, writing had flowed out of me like nobody’s business. Notes filled notebooks and pages piled up. Then an insightful editor told me to put the breaks on the floodwaters and get cranking on publishing.

In the meantime, I continued along my work trail. Work thrived. Writing limped.

Even blog posts that used to spring out of nowhere, where nowhere in sight.

Waiting.

A few weeks ago, right on schedule, Phoebe came back and laid her eggs — one, two, three. All fluff and beaks, these minis flourished.

One morning, the birds stood up, peered around their nest, and like a toddler about to throw one chubby leg over a crib gate — they were ready. Thinking the birds would jump ship, I went around back to enter the porch. But they held tight.

The next day I was leaving for the BlogHer conference – 3 insanely hectic days in NYC. I dreamt about gardens and flight. The stark contrast of my lush home in the woods to the rush of city lights and throngs of people, couldn’t be harsher. But I enjoy the freedom of travel and look forward to the change of scene; always thankful I have a refuge, this haven, to return to. My nest.

Returning, I walked out to the porch this morning and the peeping started, reaching an all-time high. Then, in a blink of any eye, the babies flew over to the power line that connects us to the rest of the world. There they sat, tails flicking like mom’s. Once safely ensconced in my writing porch, I watched them fly into the woods, one by one.

Settling down to work, I click on my computer, but instead of opening my Inbox, I stare at a blank white page. Maybe I could write something today? How do I know?

‘Cause just like that a post took flight.


Photo note: I tried hard not to disturb Pheobe and her babies. I didn’t dare take photos. This photo of sleeping newborns is from Shutterstock.

Come Write With Me In Vermont!

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Just close your eyes and imagine the writing possibilities of riding out a snowstorm snuggled in a 1809 farmhouse next to a crackling fire, while peering out upon acres and acres of powdery landscape. Nestled in the quiet hollows of the Green Mountains, with the demands and distractions of life falling away, I enjoyed an incredible writing opportunity — a few days at an intimate writer’s retreat in Vermont.

It was pure writing heaven. I even went snowshoeing each day when I needed a brain boost. With the ‘ol heart pumping goodness to my muscles, I rediscovered how my writing gets a mega-boost from outdoor exercise.

While I was readying my book for the next phase of its publishing path — to meet and greet publishers, I met the writer-in-residence of Where Words Count, Marie White Small. We became instant friends. And when she read an excerpt from her soon to be published novel, Stony Kill, I was captivated by her literary voice and compelling subject — a family experiencing a child’s senseless death due to irresponsible gun owners. Marie is also a writer’s workshop leader — and she invited me to teach a blogging workshop at the retreat!

wwc_retreat_smWhether you want to create a “blog-to-be” and need to demystify blogging, or already have a blooming blog and want to juice up your writing, I would love you to join me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the food. Chef Aaron cooks up a gastronomic feast. Each meal served was inventive and indulgent, using locally-sourced ingredients to the max. Think New England comfort food with a gourmet twist. Even cocktail hour was a scrumptious event.

Here are all the particulars for the So You Want To Blog? workshop. And please let me know if you have any questions.

See you in Vermont?

Photos: Ronnie Citron

Gray Matter

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This is a hard post to write. How do you put into words something you’ve held so close for so long — something you’ve worked on when you weren’t working — when your time was yours to play and you reset time and space to write?

I used to think in blog posts. There was this voice in my head that kept the blog gears churning hard and fast. Something would strike, visual or visceral, and it would send me coveting, needing to share. Without filling up pages and pages, I marveled at how a small bite-sized morsel could be so satisfying.

Then my time filled up with work. My last unpublished post titled, “No Time To Blog,” seemed frivolous and obvious. Why would anyone want to read about not posting? Life happens. Everyone’s busy. Give it a break. Delete.

Now I wonder how to answer people who say, “Where do you find the time to write a book?” You get up early. You write on weekends, holidays, on the train. Once it’s woven into your fabric, you flesh it out and wear it any which way you can. Writing a book has become both muse and craft. I’ve fallen in love with the process.

So why share news of my upcoming book now…in its gestation? Because a 21-month milestone was hit and the editor I’m working with sent this newsletter to her publishing network today…

“One day a friend called to say she was going to let herself go gray…finally…after being gray for a decade, and the next day I received a phone call from Ronnie.

I’m thrilled to be helping Ronnie Citron-Fink, journalist and managing editor for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Moms Clean Air Force. Ronnie has written and published thousands of articles about the environment, health, politics, green living, and beauty for websites, books, and magazines. Yahoo named her one of the “Top 10 Living Green Experts.”

It was during a Moms Clean Air Force business meeting in which a scientist from the Environmental Defense Fund was discussing what products consumers use that are detrimental to their health when she found herself at the tipping point; she could no longer ignore the curtain of headlines that broadcast how dangerous toxins lead to disease. At that moment, she decided she would stop subjecting her body to hair dye. UNCOLOR follows Ronnie’s hair trajectory as she comes out as openly gray. The manuscript will take an investigative look at the history of consumer advertising, feminism, health, mothering, hair care, men, money, our warming planet, and how women of a certain age can redefine beauty without hoisting the surrender flag. Unlike other literature on going gray, UNCOLOR takes a rigorous look at the ramifications of hair dye on our bodies and on our earth.

Ronnie’s book is an important addition to a cutting-edge discussion on how female boomers are redefining themselves. Let me know if you’re interested in taking a look at Ronnie’s book proposal.”

Gulp. For some reason, the first thing that came to mind when I read this was, “La-di-da.” Like Annie Hall’s nervous romance, publishing is a wobbly adventure. Not that I would know about this yet because I’ve just cracked the mystery of writing a book proposal. Along with creating a better book, writing the proposal helped me make peace with my true roots.

Photo: Junya Watanabe, “Techno Couture”

Capturing the Muse

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I have passed the Point Way Inn, home of Noepe Center for Literary Arts and Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, advice hundreds of times. My family vacationed on the Island for years, and now my daughter lives there, a full-time resident on the cusp of marrying a Vineyarder.

Familiarity aside, I was a total writers residency newbie, not at all sure what to expect from living in a place where writing seeps into every conversation, and stories are written in the nooks and crannies of every space. A poet laureate, a few novelists, a crime reporter, a playwright and two musical memoirists — sequestered, and expected to share a home and meals for a few weeks like sleepover campers. Would I be able to focus on my writing while others inscribe to their own immersion, to the rhythm of different genres?

A kind of frozen fear hit me when I questioned how I could possibly work on my book with all the demonic electronic diversions threatening to sweep me into my “real” life of work and family.

Secretly, I wondered what I was doing in this grand inn, inhabited by equally distinguished writers. Over wine the first night, I voiced my concerns. One of the novelists said, “Focus on focusing on nothing. The writing will ebb and flow.”

Sigh, I was never great at meditating, and I’ve rarely had a moment lately to pry open the hood wide enough to find out what’s bubbling up. I’m a planner, a plotter. I like to know what to expect from the inner workings of a situation, anticipating an upward trajectory.

After that first doubt-filled day, a new plan emerged, focusing on nothing but what I came to do — write my book. Miraculously, I fell into suit, becoming wildly productive. I was completely and utterly inspired. Writing to the point of skipping my morning shower, lunch, check-in calls with my husband, kids. I had never written like this before. At the end of each day, I tallied the word count. Remarkable progress. My best writing ever. I was giddy with the belief my book would find its way out of my head, out of my computer and into the hands of adoring readers.

A few days into the euphoric rise, as if to pace myself, I tiptoed into my work email. I rationalized the reward, like I rationalize shopping for shoes at Zappos, without need. This shifted me deep into a gaping rabbit hole. Lost in the hinterlands of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Googling the other residents. Now I was cooked.

Facing hours of internet chatter and entirely distracted, I knew I needed a self-inflicted intervention. I had to protect those intensely blank moments that cleared my mind, allowing me to focus inward and sweep out procrastination to reclaim momentum.

Knowing that I could not scale back completely from technology — for goodness sake, I can hardly write a sentence with a pen and paper anymore — I put myself on a diet. Turning off the dings, rings and pings that make my technological heart hum, I coaxed my jumbled thoughts out of inertia and reigned them into coherent sentences, redirecting my attention to my book.

This spring delivered on its promises. It ushered in newness, growth, the gift of unfurling warmth and the replenishing of words, filling up the pages, reminding me of what writers do best: tell stories.

Photo: Chris Scott Snyder