Go Fish

So I went to this  class last night… okay, it wasn’t a “class.”  It was a small gathering of women sipping prosecco and savoring friendship, toasting creativity and celebrating a particularly gifted friend’s new business launch (more on that in a subsequent post). But as I sat among these”high beam women,” as our hostess Susan described the gathered gals — each one bright in intellect and shiny of spirit, I realized that in fact I have been being schooled by many of them for many years now.  They are artists, weavers, dancers, writers and poets, renegade dames of innumerable talents. And last evening being with them was yet another seminar in my continuing education course, Playing with Fire 101: What can happen if you dare to ignite and fuel your creative sparks. Or something like that.

Charleston native Barbara Hagerty was one of the luminous ladies gathered ’round last eve, a true teacher and role model for digging in and following a passion. A few years ago, Barbara, an accomplished non-fiction writer, invested fully in her love of poetry. She had a full-on midlife crisis affair with words, including daily dalliances and steamy writing sessions, and didn’t come up for air until she had written a poem a day for 365 days.  Now she is celebrating the publication of  her second book of poetry, Motherfish (Finishing Line Press, November 2012; pre-order it here).

Barbara has birthed herself as a poet, with all the patience, endurance and hard labor that moms can appreciate. She gave into it, she worked it, and by doing so, has given us mesmerizing images, lovely rhythm and nuance, the mystery and magic of language at play.

In Motherfish, Barbara writes of the work of nurturing and bringing forth, of exploring transitions, moving from one generation to the next.

“I have discovered that one’s obsessions in life effortlessly become one’s themes in poetry. I have never intentionally set out to compile poems around a theme; I simply discover (usually after I have spread them out of the floor) that a large number of them already coalesce around a theme,” she explains. ” The image of the fish to convey motherhood was chosen not only because I have a mother who swims daily (at age 85) but because the fish is the very embodiment of slipping from one shore to the next, one life to the next, one generation to the next, much as the passage of our lives—mother-to daughter–to as-yet-unborn daughter–slips by in a series of mysterious, continuous undulations.”

So, on which bank of the river

   am I now, waking or dreaming?

Li-Young Lee (“Living with Her,” Behind My Eyes)




It was the summer of translations,

forcing nouns into undershirts,

knotting bibs around verbs.


On the coping,

lizards changed clothes,

ghostwrote their memoirs.


Under the umbrella’s

penumbra, I’d become

a very old child.


Mother breathed through gills,

swam golden loopholes

in the pool.


Her feet were footnotes

on my gloss.

She swam in cursive.


Clouds coined new clouds.

Fleet phrases

flew off the water’s shoulders.


Such hydraulics, freight

and displacement of text,

heavy lifting.


Flesh into ether,

her body’s strokes.

She wrote in invisible ink.


She made it look easy,


the deep, the rope, the ladder.




In the cupboard with John Cleese

Thanks to an infestation of pantry moths —  determined little buggers that have cozied up and made themselves quite at home in about every possible nook and cranny in our cupboards — I’ve spent a large chunk of Sunday afternoon clearing out cans, wiping down shelves, throwing out boxes of tea from the last century (1998!). In other words, creating space. And listening to podcasts while inventorying kidney beans (3 cans: 2 dark red, one light red — chili tonite!).

To celebrate a newly cleaned out cupboard, I’m sharing this fabulous lecture by John Cleese, on creativity. On creating space, and time, and “openness” to let the imagination do its thing.

Ironically, I wrote about the damned pantry moths as metaphor for the muse in this essay, months ago. Cleese’s words came back to haunt me, and encourage me, as I cleaned. Enjoy.  (Bonus, brush up on your German via the subtitles!)

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 2


Novelist Josephine Humphreys, left, and writer Debra Moffitt

Nobel prize winner Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”


I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but I have an idea he is suggesting more than simply stating the obvious—that writing is hard. The meat of Mann’s quote, I believe, is the “for other people” part. The comparison.


Writing is indeed a solitary endeavor, but it’s also a curiously communal effort. Not only are writers trying to make connection with their readers, most writers I know are insanely curious about how other writers work. We’re looking over others’ shoulders, making comparisons, which ain’t healthy but it is a job hazard, at least in my experience. We need the support, insight, how-to tips, criticism and encouragement from other writers. It’s like bumming a cigarette from a friend, back when people smoked cigarettes.


And it’s why workshops like the Sophia Institutes’ Writing, Creativity and Soul gathering this weekend are so necessary—kind of like going to a revival. It’s the power of numbers, a communal celebration and recognition that writing is difficult but rewarding—even soul-nourishing—creative work, and affirmation that if others can do it, then dang it, I can too.


“The program looks like one that will be helpful to writers of all kinds, including those of us who’re speaking,” says keynoter Josephine Humphreys, a Penn Faulkner award winning novelist and author ofNowhere Else on Earth. “I always learn something from the give and take, and I’m reminded that we’re all in this together.”


Joining Humphreys for the Friday night session will be novelist Mary Alice Monroe and nonfiction writer Debra Moffitt, author of the award-winning Awake in the World. Saturday’s program includes genre-specific breakout sessions led by poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens, Moffitt on writing memoir, me on writing personal essay and blogs, and Nina Bruhns on self-publishing.


“For me writing is a spiritual practice and a way to share, connect, and be of service. In the workshop, I’d like for people to become aware of their own motives for writing as well. We’ll explore expression and giving voice to the deeper self that yearns to express and create,” says Moffitt.


In that spirit of sharing, I invite and encourage all of you for whom writing is difficult to register and come join the club.

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 1

A Macintosh specialty. Not exactly what’s on the menu at the Sophia Institute’s writers retreat, but close.

It may be Restaurant Week, but Charleston’s dining establishments aren’t the only decadent deal in town this weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, the Sophia Institute serves up a low-fat, high-fiber, and definitely heart healthy smorgasbord of local writing talent for its annual Writing, Creativity and Soul workshop. Soul work is at the core of almost all Sophia Institute programs, and it’s also at the core of good writing—in my opinion at least. Gifted writers illuminate the nuances and mysteries of the human spirit through poetry or prose.  The opportunity to hear how they do it, how they take raw ingredients of daily life and simmer them into chapter and verse, is like sampling Jeremiah Bacon’s latest pork-inspired entrée. It’s good stuff.  Chew on it, be fueled for your own writing practice, then go get dessert somewhere.

Sue Monk Kidd, Natalie Goldberg and Josephine Humphreys have been Writing, Creativity and Soul keynoters in the past, and this year Jo Humphreys returns along with best-selling novelist Mary Alice Monroe and writer Debra Moffitt, who will share insight on The Writer’s Life: Creativity, Soul and Survival on Friday night.

Then on Saturday, feast on several courses: Mary Alice leads a morning session on structure and tools for would-be novelists, a midday reflective repast with Jo on “How Writing Transforms the Novelist”, a lunch chat on e-publishing by Nina Bruhns, then afternoon breakout sessions on various genres with yours truly and poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens.

Mary Alice Monroe, fitting in some writerly reflection while on turtle watch duty, on IOP.

“I’m always curious about how other writers meet the demands of their career–time management, edits, inspiration, and burn out. It’s such an ever changing, evolving career,” says Mary Alice Monroe, who just finished her most recent manuscript – a novel about dolphins – last week. “We’ll open up with reflections on personal aspects of a writer’s career in an honest discussion on Friday night.  My teaching session on Saturday is strictly about craft.  No fooling around here; I plan to share solid tips that writers can take home and bring to their work.”

“I do hope local writers who need that extra something to help them either begin the project that’s been in their mind, or finish that project that is stalled, will come and avail themselves to this intimate and intense weekend,” Monroe adds.

And I hope to see you as well. You can get full workshop details and register here.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from award-winning novelist, Jo Humphreys.