This, too, is my life

gal gadot as wonder womanFriday night, my family settled in to watch Wonder Woman for the zillionth time. I love that my boys love Wonder Woman and argue over who gets to be her when they play Justice League. I have wistful memories of my childhood best friend (and inspiration for my current novel) and the Wonder Woman mittens of hers I coveted fiercely. I love the anti-war message of the latest incarnation.

But I also find myself wrestling with other feelings. As I sat watching Gal Gadot, in awe of her strong legs and body, frustration with my own slide toward 40 and 5-years-post-partum body set in. Again (like I said, this is the zillionth time we’ve watched it). I’ll never be Gal Gadot.

In this week’s episode, Olivia and I talked about jealousy and how to deal with it. It’s such a common part of life, and it sucks. Not only is it unpleasant, it can spoil the good things, too.

I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either.

We recorded this particular discussion on Thursday, so as I lay in bed that night after the movie, I decided to just sit with it. And I realized, yes, I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either. So take that, Wonder Woman.

***

madeleine l'engle's summer of the great-grandmother (crosswicks book two) and yellow index cardsLast week, I also finished reading Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle. Listeners know how much I love the woman I call St. Madeleine, in all her complexity — much has been written on her revisionist approach to truth and memory, and it was sad to read her version of her children and know how different it is from their version of her (Gabrielle Zevin wrote in The New Yorker of her children “who love her deeply, but with a kind of desperate frustration spliced with resentment.”). She rewrote herself.

Anyway, I finished the book, and made some notes, feeling a little disappointed. Summer of the Great-Grandmother is about the summer of her mother’s death and decline, and is full of family history and storytelling, which while pleasant, wasn’t illuminating or inspiring to me right then. I wanted her to tell me a different story, to give me her life, but differently.

Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”

I tell a story often of a podcast I once heard. The host shared what was to her a devastating interaction with a long-time hero: She was in the process of trying to write while also raising her small children. At a book signing for one of L’Engle’s books, she asked L’Engle, “How did you do it? How did you write and take care of your family?” L’Engle looked at her for a moment then said only, “It was hard,” then went back to signing books.

This is a favorite story of mine because my reaction is one of joy and intense relief. If it was hard for Madeleine effing L’Engle, how in the world do I expect it to be easy for me?

As I was copying down passages from Summer on yellow index cards, I realized I had been reading the book for advice and motivation as a writer, and Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”

***

And it hit me — these things too are and will be my life, and that’s good. I don’t know what Gal Gadot wants from her life, but as I look around at mine, I would not trade it for anyone else’s. You can’t give up the bad without giving up the good, because they’re entwined. Nothing in our lives is wholly good or bad — kids are going to bring sleepless nights and fragmented workdays, but they’re also going to bring knock-knock jokes and spontaneous hugs and so much wonder. That delicious cake? Probably not helping me look like Wonder Woman, but SO DELICIOUS. A period of intense loneliness many years ago has wound its way through my current work, and allowed me to write about someone who isn’t me doing things I’ve never done, but feeling things I have felt.

This, too, is my life — not L’Engle’s, not Gal Gadot’s — and I’m the only one who makes it what it is, and it makes me.

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Episode 18 has the January writing prompt!

Episode 18 is live! Show notes are here. In it we read through our December writing prompt responses, and then we introduce our January prompt, which is to browse some CV or resume pages, find one person, and write about their job interview experience. It’s adapted from the helpful book Writer With a Day Job, by Áine Greaney.

We’d love to hear your responses.  Send your response and let us know if you want us to share it on the air!

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Is it too late to follow my writing dreams?

Did you read this advice column by Roxane Gay in the New York Times? The one that says this:

The older I get, the more I have to say and the better I am able to express myself. There is no age limit to finding artistic success. Sometimes it happens at 22 and sometimes it happens at 72 and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. No, you are not too old to have a writing career, no matter your age.

I did read it, and then forgot it completely (I haven’t been online much the past couple weeks). And then one of our listeners sent it to me again, and reminded me that I wanted to write about it.

In the conversations Meghan and I have – on the podcast but especially off – we often talk about feeling like we have started late, or that particular nostalgia-for-what-never-was feeling (there must be a German word for that) of reading about a writer who is 22 and accomplished and amazing. That feeling that makes you feel like it’s not worth trying.

Which, of course, logically: what?? First of all, we aren’t old. Second, if it took me 70 years to tell a really good story, that would also be okay. But a lot of celebrity writing culture glorifies the young writers. Every year, it seems, an entire generation of new writers is born, at age 20-whatever, and they are breathlessly hailed as the “new [insert famous writer here, like Nabokov or Roth or whoever].”

(By the way, that is also completely okay. It’s awesome if you figure out what you want to say and how to say it when you’re 20-whatever, and I love being in awe of so many talented people.)

One part I liked of the column was this: “The writing world was passing me by.” Because that’s what it does feel like, right? That there is a writing world, and they don’t even know you want to get in, and if they did, they’d completely laugh in your face.

That’s why I especially liked her advice, which was to measure your success in a way that doesn’t depend on other people, on the people in the writing world (we could call it a writing bubble):

Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel.

Let’s all just chant her last line to ourselves and each other every day this year:

You are not a late bloomer. You are already blooming.

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Open Thread: December writing prompt

Hey hey! In case you haven’t figured it out, we really love seeing your writing. It’s so cool how people interpret the same prompt so differently, and we’ve seen some very clever responses. SO, we totally respect wanting to keep your responses private, and get it if sharing them with just us is putting yourself out there enough, BUT just in case some of the rest of y’all want to get in on this writing prompt every month, here’s the open thread for posting your responses and critiques.

As a reminder of how this works: We do what most people do with writing prompts – i.e. use them for 10-15 minutes to get warmed up. That means we don’t edit them (we write by hand, so when we type it up there may be some basic changes, but we resist the urge to do real work on it).

Otherwise, the rules are simple — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. In other words, don’t be mean.

While it’s ok to offer critique without sharing your response in turn, we’d like you to really think hard before doing that, and let it shape your comments.

Ok, enough chatter. The prompt:

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Ground, Receive, Flow, Ground – a yoga sequence for creative flow

This is a guest post from our Episode 14 interviewee, Divya Kohli of Yoga With Divya (London). We asked her to share a yoga sequence for creativity, and she has really come through with this one. It can be done slowly or more flow-y, but give yourself a minimum of 10 minutes – 15-20 is optimal – to get through it. 

Here’s Divya’s post:

 

Ground, Receive, Flow, Ground:
Ready to Write!

Yoga practice can help ground restless or scattered energy, including dealing with procrastination! Postures with deeper breathing can open our physical and imaginative centres. Sequencing of certain postures will literally ignite our internal energy – including creativity – and get it to flow. Conscious engagement with our breath can set up a steadiness of mind and clearer outlook.

Here is a sequence I’ve put together to ground, open up, release and then re-ground, taking you to a place where you feel centred and ready to engage in writing flow. Ideal preparation for when you want to get creative; but also a grounding sequence for anytime you feel a need for that.

Sequence credit: Yoga with Divya

Photo credits:  pictures are the original creations of illustrator and senior Yoga Teacher Bobby Clennell, apart from the last photo, taken of Divya while engaged in Alternate Nostril breathing.


Virasana (Hero) pose, with block

Kneel on all fours, put a block or fold a blanket and place between your heels and ankles, sit back onto the block, press the tops of your feet and toes evenly into the ground.

Now sit tall, lengthening the crown of your head upward and sense it’s poised above the tailbone. Feel even weight between both sitting bones.

Relax palms of hands up or down on the thighs.

If you feel pain or strain, add another block or raise the height under the hips to lessen tension on the back and knees. You can also place padding under the feet if there is strain there.


Ujjayi, (Victorious) Breath

After a few moments, start to connect to your breath as it is. Find it and follow it with awareness, how it’s flowing or not, wherever it’s moving to or not moving to.  Spend around a minute following your breath.

Then relax.

Take a deliberate fuller breath in and then out.

Take your attention back to your breath and start to cultivate Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath), often referred to as the ‘Ocean Wave’ breath as it sounds like an ocean wave rising and falling in the distance. Channel your breath along the back of your throat (where you vocal chords are), it will feel like you are filtering the breath as you inhale and exhale through the nose, mouth stays closed. Develop a smooth, no grasping rhythm and soft ‘hushed’ sound.

Stay here for 2 to 3 minutes.

Then relax and absorb the benefits.
If your knees or back ache, stretch out the legs while you relax and absorb the benefits. Or even lie down your back with your knees bent and observe for a while.

Maryjasana & Bitilasana, Cat & Cow movement

Come onto all Fours – stretch one leg back at time, from hip to toes.

Then return to all Fours.

On an inhale, tilt the tailbone up and send the heart through the arms, allowing for the spine to concave (Cow); as you exhale, draw the third eye (forehead) and tailbone in towards each other, curving the spine upwards (Cat).

Take a few rounds, synchronising breath and movement.

Allow for any neck releasing movements, and for circling the hips if that feels releasing.

 

 


Ardho Mukha Virasana (Resting Dog)

Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms out, allow the head to naturally low.

A great stretch for the whole body and particularly helpful with opening the back, regulating the kidneys (said to be ‘the seat of wellbeing’), stretching the stomach (to release tension and allow better flow of breath), and releasing tension from the hips, shoulders and head.

Stay for as long you like.

You can place head and arms on a bolster/cushion or block for added support.

 

Ardho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing Dog)

To stretch the whole body, engages every muscle and joint and helps to calm the mind.

Totally fine to have the knees bent if the legs don’t straighten, or if that helps lessen rounding in the spine, or both.

Stay for 1-2 minutes.

Stay less time if feeling stiff or tired; in which case, move in and out of the pose by moving into Child Pose when needing a breather.

 

Balasana (Child) Post, regroup, release the back and shoulders

Like Resting Dog pose, only place the arms by the side, reaching back, with the palms up.

Head on the mat, or supported.

Take at least one minute here, tuning into the natural flow of the breath.

 

Surya Namaskarasana (Sun Salutations)

A classic flow sequence, hundreds of years’ old and practised by millions every day in the world as a vehicle for waking up the body, engaging every muscle and joint, and getting our Prana (internal energy, which is a mix of our consciousness and the energy of life) to flow to every part of our body.

This version keeps things simple – not much to have to remember.

Try for 3 rounds – or up to 5 if you have the time and energy.

Alternatives:

  • When lowering to the floor, feel free to lower the knees first, then the chest, then the whole body.
  • When pressing up to the floor, feel free to keep the knees and hips down on the earth.

 

 

Supported Setu Bandasana (Bridge, or… Heart Over a Roll)

Set up a yoga bolster, and a folded blanket in front. If you don’t have a yoga bolster, or one to hand, a rolled up blanket will be perfect too. Or a couple of cushions (one on to of the other) is just fine too. If you don’t have a blanket to support the head, just ensure whatever you’re using to lean back over isn’t too high so your neck and head can relax back without strain.

Sit on the support (bolster/blanket/cushion), slowly slide the legs away, and recline back, supporting the head just before it hits the blanket or earth if not using blanket.

Let the arms fall to the side, tuck the shoulder blades down the back and send the tailbone away towards to the feet.

Settle in. Ensure there is no pain. If the lower back is not happy, bend the legs and keep the flat on the earth.

Aim for at least 3 minutes, 5 is ideal for the nervous system to chill and regulate itself. This posture and set up is also great at opening the chest, releasing fear and stagnation, and relieving stiffness from the back and hips.

 

Savasana (Corpse pose)

After carefully sliding out of the Supported Bridge pose, roll onto your back.

Support your head with a folded blanket or pillow if that makes your head, neck and shoulders feel more comfortable.

Let the legs roll out, arms fall out.

Settle in.

Absorb all the effects of your practice, relax and let go.

If the mind is busy or goes into planning mode, let your attention rest on the gentle unforced rise of the belly as you inhale and exhale.

Aim for 3 – 5 minutes, 5 minutes is optimal.

Whatever time available, try not to skip Savasana as it’s when you’ll absorb all the benefits of the practice. Plus it takes at least 3 minutes for your body’s muscles and joints to let go of any tension residing there. 5 minutes is optimal.

From Corpse pose, stretch, sigh, yawn, let the neck roll to one side, then the other, then slowly bring the knees into the chest, roll to your right side, and carefully press yourself up without tensing the neck.

Bring yourself into any comfortable seat.

 

Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril breathing)

If you want to prop your back against a support (back of a chair, sofa, bed or put a cushion there) that is fine. Otherwise, any comfortable seat (for example, Sukhasana, Cross legged, or Vajrasana, sitting on the heels, or even siting on a chair with an upright spine).

Take one hand up to the face, and place the index and middle finger (second and third fingers) on the bridge of the nose. Breathe in and out through both nostrils.

Breath in to and out again, and close off your right nostril with your thumb at the end of the exhale.

Breath in through the left nostril for the count of 4, then close the left nostril with your ring finger (fourth finger), release the thumb from the right nostril and exhale through the right for 4. Inhale through the right for 4, release the ring finger and exhale through the left for 4. This is one round.

Repeat.

Aim for 3 minutes.

If breathing in and out for 4 is hard to maintain, drop to 3. Or up to 5 or 6 if the breath is naturally flowing for longer and you can sustain that count without strain.

Finish up by exhaling through the left nostril.

Rest both hands on your legs or lap.

Relax.

Breath naturally through both nostrils for a few rounds.

Relax.

Sit quietly for a few moments with however you feel.

Before moving out of the practice, bow to your heart and offer gratitude to something, or someone that you feel thankful for in that moment.

Stretch out the legs, and now you’re ready for whatever you want to focus on next…

 

Tips:

Go at your own pace.

Use a timer on your phone or a clock.

Enjoy it, rather than striving to get deeper in the poses.

Don’t beat yourself up over how you do the postures or breathing, and try not to evaluate your practice!

If time is short, you can flow this entire sequence in as little as 10 minutes (spend less time in Savasana and on the Nadhi Shodana).

Otherwise, 15 or 20 minutes is ideal for this sequence.

 

Finally, do go to Yoga class – real contact with a teacher cannot be matched online.

In Peace, Divya x

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Episode 14 is up, and we’ve decided to ditch writing for yoga (kidding! Mostly)

For this episode, we sat down with Divya Kohli, Olivia’s yoga teacher and friend, to talk about how the practices of yoga and writing relate to each other.

Divya teaches yoga and meditation for “the whole being”, a practice which can enliven  our bodies, minds and consciousness and help us throughout our path in life. London-based and a dedicated practitioner since 2000, she’s been a full time senior level teacher since 2006 offering community classes, retreats and bespoke tuition. A former newspaper journalist, she has a continued passion for writing… and using words like we use the breath in yoga, as a way to connect more fully.

As always, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, as this helps other listeners find the show.

Full show notes are here.

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November writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

As promised last week, we’re posting our responses to November’s writing prompt, with comments. The rules are short — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. Simply put, don’t be mean.

So here’s Olivia’s response, and my (Meghan’s) comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material (although I was super impressed with Olivia’s).

Grace froze when she heard the knock on the door. One arm was outstretched, her hand grasping the hairy-barked pine log she had been feeding into the dark mouth of the fireplace. She was glad she hadn’t lit the fire yet. She propped herself up on the other elbow.

The knock came again, harsher this time. Impatient. It knew she was inside.

Both of her arms were starting to shake. She ease the wood onto the sooty stone hearth, silently, then dragged herself across the floor. Her thick skirts picked up twigs, beetle carcasses and small clumps of mud, leaving a clean-swept trail behind her.

Another knock. Not even waiting to listen.

As she moved, she searched the sparse room again, pointlessly scanning the dusty surfaces for a girl-sized crevice. Even the kitchen had only shelves, no cupboards.

The metal latch clicked but did not give itself up. And so the cheap door began rattling in its frame, asking for entry at first, then demanding it. Fierce.

She pulled herself up onto the austere wooden chair behind the door, arranging herself into her most natural position. This always took time, otherwise something about her angles were wrong. Gave her away immediately.

But she didn’t have time. Her leg dangled awkwardly as the door gave way. A panting bearded man swept in, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape.

And the comments:

  • I loved the tone — it’s so creepy from start to finish
  • The ending! It is a surprise, but a logical one. The signs are there, but I loved how they were only clear in retrospect. The whole piece moves quickly and is full of tension.
  • The only thing I noted for revision is the way the intruder’s actions are given to the door, the door latch. I do like how it masks all details about the intruder, but it is a bit distracting.
  • The language itself works really well — beetle carcasses, hairy-barked pine log, and my favorite, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape. Just lovely.

Did you write something for this prompt you’d like to share? Email us, or leave it in the comments!

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Writing Prompt 1: Meghan’s response & Olivia’s comments

As promised on today’s podcast, we are posting our responses and the mini-critique comments we discussed on the show. Of course we’d love to hear your responses as well. The rules of the mini-critique are that you should pick out something positive, and then where you see potential suggestions or improvements, be constructive. Basically, like in so many spheres, the rule is “don’t be mean.”
October writing prompt: Your boss calls you into their office. What happens next?
Anyway, this is Olivia – I am posting Meghan’s response* and some comments below. So first, Meghan’s response:
“Roz.” Margot beckoned from the doorway of her office. Her face was blank – for me, or for my coworkers’ benefit, I couldn’t tell. I unhooked from the network and stood.
I waited in front of Margot’s desk while she closed the blinds on both the office-facing window and the one that overlooked the street outside. Margot shut the door.
“There’s been a mistake,” she said. Then she disappeared.
Just — gone. I ran over to her desk and looked behind it, frantic. I crawled on the floor — maybe she was hiding under the desk — but she wasn’t there. There was no sign of her, nothing left behind, except me.
Sweat rolled down my sides from under my arms, and I sat back against the gray steel cabinet in the corner to think. No one could know. I had to get out, fast.
The handle of the cabinet dug between my shoulder blades and I turned. The drawer wasn’t closed all the way. Something [[i don’t know what – I haven’t figured that out yet]] was wedged inside. I pulled it out and slipped it in my waistband.
With one last look, I slipped out of the door. “Thanks, Margot,” I said as I closed it. “Yep, I’ll take care of that.”
I couldn’t leave right away – I needed to know if Margot’s absence was discovered, and I couldn’t look suspicious. I needn’t have worried. The afternoon crawled by and by the time I left, I was a wreck. I hadn’t done a thing, unable to face connecting again in case someone was able to read what had happened, and I had no idea how I could find out about the [[[whatever thing]]] I had found without being tracked.
As soon as I got home, I checked both rooms in my apartment, every cupboard, every corner.
So, in terms of comments:
  • First of all, I really liked how the suspense builds here, and the way the reader is drawn into a world and infers so much from the scene and the setting just from the small amount of text here.
  • I also really liked the image of the “afternoon crawling by” – it’s not a phrase I’d heard a lot and it’s a really good image.
  • I thought, in terms of things that could be done differently, I am a little bit weird in that I have a logistical mind, and so I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where the door was, compared to the desk and the window. I couldn’t imagine it, so I suggested to take another look at that part at the beginning.
  • And finally, there were a few points where I liked the phrase, and they short cut us to the feeling we need to get, but I thought they could be more vivid. For example, “by the time I left, I was a wreck” and the word “frantic” in the fourth paragraph. What did that look like? What would it smell or sound like? And so we talked on the podcast about the importance of being in touch with all your senses in describing something.

But overall, we really enjoyed this process – although it was scary – and we look forward to hearing from you all.

 

* As we said on the podcast, this is really draft and we haven’t particularly edited it – we wanted to be genuine with you and hopefully to get you guys to participate with us in future ones!

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Do you 10Q?

(Disclosure: I actually do not like that slogan – not sure of the grammar of it, but I will use it because it’s what they use.)

There’s this thing I’ve been doing since 2011, or in other words (but coincidentally) as long as I’ve been doing my “corporate drone” job. It’s called 10Q, and was inspired by the time of reflection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but you don’t need to be religious in any way to participate.

As you might have guessed, there are 10 questions that it sends you – one question per day, that you can reflect on (stuff like, how did a significant experience affect you) and write an answer to. At the end of the 10 days, you lock your answers away in a vault until the next year. Sure, anyone could do this for themselves any time, but there is something about the process and the community that I like. It probably adds some accountability.

You can choose whether your answers are public, or you can make them public but anonymous, or totally private. It’s up to you.

Also, you can answer all the questions on the last day, or only answer some of them, or answer a few at a time if you’re busy at work and haven’t gotten to it (speaking from personal experience). So I like that it’s not super rigid, but it has a structure.

There are lots of things I love about it, but these are probably the biggest ones:

  1. It’s for a specific period of time. So you can only read your old answers for a short period of time (the “vault” opens a bit before 10Q and closes a bit after). So it is part of a rhythm of a year for me – the sort of autumnal reboot, since I am not Jewish, but for a couple of years I observed some Jewish holidays and met with a rabbi, and so the religious rhythm also has some significance for me. In any case, I like that this is not about constant naval-gazing and more about a process of looking at your year and assessing it, and then saving something to consider for next year.
  2. It reminds me why I am writing. It gets me out of my day-to-day grind and makes me think about why I do what I do and why I want to write. And going back a few years (2011-13 especially), before I started really trying to write or taking writing classes in the evenings, I felt so frustrated that I wasn’t writing – I felt a need but wasn’t doing it. That’s really helpful to read about.
  3. I love reading my old answers. Again, this is sort of like reading your old journals and laughing at how you thought things would be. But the questions are thoughtful enough that you answer them in good ways. (For example, last year I wrote this: “I would like to be finished with my novel, maybe pitching it for publication.” HAHAHAHA.) For something a little bit more meaningful, I wrote this in 2012, which still really resonates when I read it again:

“When I was in university, I believed that I wanted a life in pursuit of knowledge and wonder. I think I need to add “joy” to that list. I have been pursuing knowledge for some time, but not with the wonder and definitely not with the joy. I have been making rules for myself, and that means as well making rules for others. I need to be myself. I think it is still important to seek knowledge – to evaluate and analyse – but I need to do this because of a deeper pursuit of joy and love.”

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve done it before, if you enjoy it, if you are going to do it again?

(olivia)

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