Coal miners bring canaries with them when they go down under the ground. When the birds stop singing, it means they are close to poisons and it is time to get out of there. The birds are sensitive to the poisons and they alert the miners that they too are approaching danger. It’s a lot like life. Toxic words and beliefs damage our psyches and our souls. We need to carry an inner canary with us and really listen when it stops singing. I heard this story on a video by author and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton and it got me thinking.
My inner canary almost had a psychic heart attack. I was raised in a liberal Jewish bastion, lived in cities like Boston and Chicago for most of my life, was the token heterosexual writing for a gay and lesbian newspaper, staunch Obama supporter, advocate for mental health, environment, any cause to be just and worthwhile. I had teachers and therapists tell me I was too liberal and I would get into trouble on college and job applications if I didn’t soften my views. I didn’t buy it.
But when I got married, all that changed. Slowly, I found my old views slipping. I forgot about my friends from afar. I now lived in the suburbs. I began to listen to my husband’s staunch conservative Republican views and place less and less emphasis on my progressive HuffPost reading father. I found myself afraid to express a contrary opinion with my husband. When he knocked gays or the blacklivesmatter movement, I feared the one word that might enlighten him. My truth. The truth that only some people fit the stereotypes and the rest are just people like him and me. I had become the bystander and my beliefs were getting bullied. I thought of my mentors and friends, straight and gay, black and white, who suffered because people talked like that and believed like that. My father always taught me that when someone talked bad about a person of color or any other marginalized group those people suffered and that idol chatter oppressed people more.
Protecting My Inner Canary
My inner canary sings softly. It warns me of a toxic belief system that I wasn’t raised with in the air. Although, I was raised to see both sides of an issue and not to judge until all the facts were in and even then to see the situation as it is, I still need a soul reminder of the toxic sludge of our society. When I hear Hannity or Rush, conservative and even some unabashedly liberal pundits, I have to put up boundaries to prevent other people’s words and beliefs from affecting me. My canary thinks for itself and sings its own tune, a tune that is a compellation tape of everything my soul has ever experienced.
Give a Girl a Journal and you give her permission to create worlds you can only dream about; you spark the poet inside her to write magic; you help her get the pain and angst out about being bullied; you give her a secret to defy her parentals who told her the reasons not to write; you give her a special place to look inside herself, to learn to love the sound of pen on paper; to know that writing is a definate option, even if she decides science will be her main career; you teach her how to live with intention, to set goals, to dream big;
This is what happens when you Give a Girl a Journal. You make magic happen for billions of girls around the world. You help teach girls that their stories count too, that everyone has a story, that it is important to share, that no one is alone out there, there’s always someone who has been through what you’ve been through. Self-confidence. Clarity. Self-love. These are what happen when you Give a Girl a Journal. You can begin right here by clicking on Jamie Ridler’s new initiative to find out more. Share your own journaling stories at #giveagirlajournal on social media.
In my house,
art was for the primed, the disciplined,
those who called themselves artists
and displayed works of grandeur.
I once tried to draw a tulip,
a lonely, red, tulip in a brown, clay pot,
my drawing shoved aside in a drawer.
Monster minateurs, saving art for the very best
to be kept in a cage of perfection.
And I wondered
if they ever started off
drawing rudimentary tulips in clay pots.
Art is for the 3-dimensional they always told me
So I forgot about art.
Forgot how to access it and went off
and found new hobbies to amuse myself with.
Last summer, at the age of 35, I picked up a pen
and found myself doodling on a napkin
I peered back at the nonsensical shapes and lines
and had a glimmer of recognition
“Is this art? Am I doing art?” I said.
Suddenly, the world opened and endless possibilities
Art was free.
This year, 2016, I will be gaining a sense of rhythm in my life. The rhythm of movement/exercise into my weeks. The rhythm of a daily writing schedule. Learning to listen to the rhythms of sound, nature, love. I want to find rhythm, a delicate balance, woven between my days. I want to understand what Virginia Woolf understood when she wrote about the rhythm of the sea. I want the cottonwool to be lifted and to see and feel the world deeply again. These are my simple hopes for the year to be. I don’t make resolutions. I don’t set unrealistic goals. I simply declare that this is the year of health, creativity and love. I may even create a rhythm journal this year. More about that one in a separate post.
On another note, this blog will begin to have interviews talking about their creative lives sometime in mid-January.
If you have one, what is your word of the year?
I just finished producing, writing, and editing and 14-page annual report for NAMI-CT, an organization which serves support, education and policy for mental health populations. Here are the steps I took to produce an annual report that told their story.
I'm available to consult, produce, write, and edit your next annual report. Click here to contact me.
Do you like poetry? Have you lost a friend to illness, accident, or suicide?
I wrote Brooklyn’s Song a few years after losing a close friend to suicide. My friend was a talented poet and artist who suffered with manic depression. This novella is a quick but lovely read. Written in lyric free verse to sound like a teen’s journal entries, you will most likely re-read and highlight your favorite passages of poetry. I meant it as a companion to your soul as you heal from grief. The book will appear on Amazon in a few weeks. Hopefully, some time in early 2016. I originally wrote the story under another name and self-published it. But thanks to meeting with some literary agents and a book designer, I took their advice and decided to re-edit and redesign it. Subsequently, a new title came forth during this process. I will keep you posted on when and how you can order copies of Brooklyn’s Song. Go to my Books page for more information about it.
Order it here!
I can’t get over the blank page. I want everything I write to be great. I need to give myself permission to create just to create and not put a label on it yet. This novel I’m writing for NANOWRIMO is harder than I thought it would be. My first novella was written in verse and just flowed through me. This novel I’m finding is slow and hard to write. I write scene after scene having no idea where this whole process is going. Dani Shapiro says to just write and eventually the flow will lead to a structure of the piece.
I went to a gentle yoga class today after months of not practicing it. I thought I would never be able to catch up with the flow and do the poses but I surprised myself. I learned that if you breathe and slowly do the pose almost any body type can do it. Yoga is about finding flow and appreciating the moment as you find it. Slowly conforming one’s body into the pose and following your breath helps you enjoy yoga more. Like yoga, I practice writing slowly. I used to be a deadline-centered journalist. But when writing fiction and poetry, I slow down and focus on themes, language, characters, and pathos in the story. I first learned to edit while writing poetry. Good poetry takes multiple drafts to find the right words, to make meaning out of language. Now, when I write copy for a client or a feature story, I pull myself back and think about what fiction and poetry has taught me. I’m still learning to find flow in my writing practice, revising it with each writing project. I suppose we’re all just beginners.
If you have a creative practice, tell me about it in the comments.
It was not easy at first. I skipped two days of word count. I had promised myself 1000 words a day for the next thirty. Now, I was faced with 3,000 words on the third day to catch up. The novel I was writing was the story of a father and daughter as they deal with the daughter’s bipolar illness. I knew this story yet somehow could only find the words to write the first paragraph. The words wouldn’t come…they just wouldn’t come. I felt pressured. As I sat at my laptop with a word processing page open, I found myself playing “inspirational” music on my iPhone instead of writing. I glanced at pages of my favorite books. I read a few pages of my library book, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of all Things. I called myself back to the process by putting in some Debussy into the CD player in my office. Words and images danced in my mind of my novel. I told myself that I don’t have to write the novel in order. I could start with a scene or a dramatic scene or just a scene. I could cut and paste later. Telling this to myself, a perfectionist, was like telling a child not to eat dessert first. Still, nothing concrete comes. Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Should I wait for the story to gel in my mind awhile more and when the moment is right I’ll just know it and begin? My mentor Dani Shapiro would tell me to just write. Write it bad, just get it out, you can always revise later. After all, revision brings you closer to the work. A journalism professor of mine once told me one had to write all the bad words out before the good stuff came forth. I’ll take that as true. So, I made a quick and simple outline and I began…to write.