Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gifts I Give, Gifts I've Been Given

I have been blessed to have had wonderful writing teachers throughout my 30-year career.

There was Ed Weathers, who taught me the art of freelancing; Marjorie Riehm, who introduced me to memoir writing, which is becoming my main genre, and Douglas Taylor, who taught a fabulous class at Northwest Community College in which we were allowed to say only positive things about each other's writing. My classmates, most of whom were 18-21 (I was 40+!) and I thrived and flourished in that environment.

Then there were Natalie Goldberg and Anne LaMott , whose books I devoured, and Gabrielle Rico, whose tapes I listened to in the '80s.

And in March 2007, I spent three nourishing days with Susan Wittig Albert in a workshop on using creative fiction techniques in memoir writing.

Now, many of my writing mentors come via the internet.

One is Mary Carroll Moore, who has a helpful blog titled How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book.

Mary Carroll teaches in Minnesota and New York, and since I am in neither place, I'm grateful for her blog, which features a weekly writing exercise.

This week's exercise was adapted from Natalie Goldberg's Thunder and Lightening, which I did not have but immediately ordered from

The exercise is about answering the questions, What has brought you to your knees? and What do you love with your whole heart?, then weaving the answers into your writing.

Mary Carroll puts the first question as, "What loss have you experienced?" and "What gifts have they brought?"

Since I am prone to insomnia, especially when there is a full moon, I did this part of the exercise about 1 a.m.

My losses were astounding, when I began to list them:

loss of:

my father at age 3 when my parents divorced

my stay-at-home, happy mother when she had to go to work at a job she disliked

the sense of family

two beloved cats, one when I was 8, the other when I was 11

not getting into the honor society and glee club in high school

my father's death when I was 21

deaths of both grandparents I was close to, and a great-aunt, a few years later

my broken engagement in my mid-20s.

deaths of 9 friends

Oh, God...this is not all, there is so much more!

What this made me realize is, these were tremendous losses, yet I am still here, I am happy, I am growing, I am flourishing, I am as beautiful and serene as the Japanese cedars I saw at Cheekwood on Saturday.

As for what I love with my whole heart, well...that took some thought. In fact, I did not even know how to answer that question until I began this post.

It could have been gardening, it could have been nature, it could have been being with loved ones, it is all of those things because those are the stuff of my life.

But what it really is, because it weaves all those elements together, is writing about the stuff of my life and sharing it with others.

That is what I love with my whole heart.

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