on permission, or, reason #547 why we need friends

The Open Door, from wikimedia

The Open Door, from wikimedia

Reader, I’ve been thinking about permission, and the act of giving and being given permission. Because I’m a nerd, let’s take a look at the word itself (A ha! I thought this might be interesting):

permission n. the action of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing; consent or authorization. From the Latin permittere, “give up, allow” (per – through + mittere – let go, send).

So the word permission implies a crossing over from one state (or place) into another. And it requires the act and the moment of saying ‘yes’ to whatever or whoever is being allowed to go through — the moment of sending/allowing.

The reason I’ve been thinking about permission is that at Monday Poets yesterday, we ended up giving one another permission to do particular things. In our discussions of life and writing, one of us shared that she’s amidst a very generative time, with lots of new ideas and creative impulses — but she feels torn by all the other writing work that needs doing: research, fleshing things out, revision, submissions, etc. As she spoke, I remembered something my excellent friend, The Poet A.O.D., said to me once. She said something like: it’s okay to just ride whatever creative wave you’re caught by right now. So I shared that idea with the MonPoets and said, “I give you permission to ride the wave, to be in that generative flood, to receive what comes without worrying about the other work right now.”

Later in the conversation, after I had detailed all my goals about series of poems I was going to start working on, one of the MonPoets said to me, “I think it would be a good idea for you to just rest and restore yourself after all you’ve been through with your son. I give you permission to take a break.”

That moment was like a door opening for me, a door that I really wanted to go through, a threshold I wanted to cross. I felt so much relief when she said, “I give you permission to take a break.”

Why is it that we sometimes need someone else to give us permission to do something we (consciously or unconsciously) probably know we need to do? I don’t know the reason why. In fact, I really wish I could’ve just given myself permission, and not needed it from someone else. But it is what it is.

Either way, there’s some good and healing power in being given permission. Is there something you need permission to do/not do? Can you give yourself permission to do/not do it? Or, if you can’t, do you have a friend who could give you permission? Just something to think about… .

Meanwhile, I’ll keep plugging along, but minus all the detailed goals for now. I’ll be reading and writing and blogging (perhaps even submitting!), but also sleeping in and going for walks, and making dinner, and reading to my kids. I’ll be claiming the writing life every day, but probably not writing every day.

There are seasons, Reader: creative floods, major and minor family crises, and a bazillion other seasons in this life (in fact, somebody said something about “the holiday season” yesterday, but I’m not sure what they were talking about).

May you always feel you have permission to live the season you’re in the midst of.

monday morsels: deadlines, owning it, revision, links

Know what I love about banana bread? It’s like eating cake for breakfast.

Monday night already! This week, my house seems empty and quiet — no toddler in sight. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves at Monday Poets. But when the rubber hit the road, we got our coffee and treats and got down to business. I thought I’d share a few things we talked about today, quick and dirty.

Deadlines have power. We agreed that having a deadline inspires work in a way that not having deadlines can’t. In fact, I’ve learned to give myself deadlines, and then pretend someone else gave them to me. I’ve used this excuse for why I can’t (fill-in-the-blank volunteer opportunity here): “Sorry, I’m working on a big deadline so I can’t do it.” And it’s always true — it’s just that self-imposed deadlines are harder to hold ourselves to, aren’t they? I hereby give you permission to treat your self-imposed deadlines like they came down from on high carved in stone.

Owning it. We talked about the power of claiming the title ‘poet’ or ‘writer’ — how that very act can help us, and those around us, take our work more seriously. On a side note, we laughed about how whenever you tell someone, “I’m a poet,” they (if not completely dumbfounded) ask, “Oh, have you published anything?” Did you ever hear anyone ask a surgeon if she’s ever completed a successful prodedure? Ask an attorney if she has any clients? Ask a teacher, “Have your students ever learned anything from you?” We had a good laugh thinking up questions we could ask people of other professions. All in good fun, of course.

Craft topic: revision. We all brought our own collections of revision tips, and highlighted our personal favorites. Then someone asked which revision tips I use most often — and I really had to think about that, but here’s what I do most often:

  • cut syllables (e.g., if there’s a two-syllable word that can be replaced with a one-syllable word, I replace it)
  • revise for sound/music (yes, sometimes this means adding syllables back in)
  • research etymology of important words to see if the words’ roots inspire any changes to the poem
  • re-lineate in couplets (for some reason, when I can’t figure out line breaks in other forms, doing a draft in couplets really helps me figure out line breaks)
  • re-draft, starting from scratch

Other favorite tips from the Mondays:

  • cram the draft into a form
  • write the poem over from last line to first
  • double space the poem, then add lines between existing lines to see what happens
  • go back to early drafts to see what hasn’t made it into the current version, and whether it might belong (I never do this! But I’m going to start!)

Links we shared (I have not read all these so I can’t vouch for their usefulness yet):

one zillion writing prompts from Charles Bernstein
Kay Ryan on recombinant rhyme
Linda Gregg on the art of finding
David Lehman on the Cento

As usual, I enjoyed the good company, the poetry talk, and the excellent treats. Now it’s bedtime already. Hope your week is off to a good start, and thanks for reading.

monday poets, with bonus content of ‘toddler invasion: part deux’

handy dandy index card, plus a colorful ‘m’ that reminds me to make one little corner of the world just for me

For the last decade of my life Mondays and poetry have  gone hand-in-hand. Although I’ve not confessed this to my current Monday Poets (spoiler alert!), for some reason I’ve always ended up with a Monday Poets group in my life. First was the original Mondays. We met in the cafeteria of a Lutheran college on Monday evenings. My excellent friend, The Poet A.O.D, is one of the wonderful po-people from the original Monday group. That group fell victim to “a slow wasting” as our then-leader put it. Soon I found myself with another group of Mondays. This group met at a cafe on Monday mornings. These Mondays cradled me during the months leading up to our move. Also they were fantastic poets and people.

When we came west, I made it my number one priority to find some poets; the Monday part was optional. I sent e-mails cold, risking being seen as a Crazy Poetry Lady (right? I’m right, right?). I showed up at a reading, introduced myself to the organizer, and asked if she knew of any, well, poets in the area. Luckily I’m not really a Crazy Poetry Lady, and eventually the reading organizer put me in touch with a workshop group.

But then, a few of us in the workshop group wanted more. More poetry time, more poetry talk. Last summer we began meeting on, you guessed it, Mondays. This is the group I mentioned in this post, and some of you were curious to know just what it is we do on Mondays so I’m here to give you the scoop.

As I wrote in the previous post, we don’t actually write poetry or workshop poems. We process the writing life. We start with a few minutes of just chatting and catching up over snacks (usually) and coffee (always).This usually takes way too long (30 minutes), but it’s fun and we’re human beings not po-robots.

Then we move on to our check-in: each person in the group shares joys, challenges, and progress on goals since our last meeting. We set a timer for 10 minutes per person — this is because we all like to talk and go off on tangents, and the timer helps us to stay on task. There is often some exchange of questions and answers, and many times we have come to new insights (as a group or as individuals) from this exchange. We always make sure to cheer successes, and help each other reframe setbacks in the best possible light. This part of the meeting usually takes 30 minutes.

Next we discuss a topic we’ve decided on at a previous meeting. We rotate responsibility for leading the discussion. Sometimes it’s a craft talk; sometimes it’s a discussion on one element of the writing life (e.g., obstacles, organdization, submissions); sometimes we read and study a poem together, and that day’s leader offers one or two prompts suggested by the poem (helpful hint: we’ve found that language-based prompts seem to be more successful at inspiring new work). Today’s discussion was on strategies for ending a poem — perfect timing for me as I’m doing battle with several unsuccessful endings. The discussion part of the meeting usually takes 45 minutes to an hour.

During the last part of the meeting we set and share weekly goals, then decide on the discussion topic for the next week (BTW, knowing I’ll be reporting my progress on goals to the Mondays is a great motivator, and I always write my goals on an index card and prop them right up on my desk). This last portion of the meeting, plus the wrap-up, goodbyes, petting the dog one last time, etc., usually takes about 20 minutes.

Monday Poets has become an indispensable part of my writing life. I’m actually not sure how I ever coped without it now that I have it. What I think is that I went along in a state of lower awareness about what was and was not working in my writing process and writing life. By opening those areas up to discussion, support, and supportive questioning, I’m so much more aware of my creative process and I have help navigating the sometimes tricky waters of the writing life.

People, this kind of group could work for anything, anything! Parenting, art, political action, teaching, quilting, raising dogs. It’s all about process which, I remind you, is from the Latin for procedere, meaning “go forward.” And it’s also about sharing the journey. I humbly suggest you go getchyou some Mondays (or Tuesdays, or Thursdays, whatever works for your life).

And now, last week I promised to tell you how to have a successful writing group meeting with a toddler in tow. One word: food. Oh, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Here are some photos of today’s meeting of the Mondays:


um…… after

Something tells me next week’s meeting of the Mondays, when my extremely cute and charming nephew will no longer be on the roster, will seem very, very quiet :).