Writing Ourselves Through

Hello friends, good people, and creative folks, For some of us, it feels a little scarier and more uncertain to use our voice right now than it might have a few weeks ago. For some of us, the blank page is not only empty but potentially charged. It might even feel dangerous. And others might be rushing to the page right now -- it might feel like a pit they could fill and fill and fill. Maybe you are asking the page, again and again, to give you some clarity and bring you some peace.

I've crossed paths with many writers recently who are not only struggling with violence, hate, and pain in the world but also physical, spiritual, and emotional challenges personally. Some days it feels like the universe is doubling down on an obstacle course for us. My own sense of how to navigate it keeps changing... so frequently that I have to keep promising myself: There are many ways forward.

I hope this doesn't over-simplify, but in a way, it's kind of like a writing prompt. If there was only one path, only one story, in response to every writing prompt, what would be the point? Part of what steadies me right now is the promise that there are many paths. The world is prompting all of us right now. And like a good writing prompt, sometimes the deepest learning happens when we are most uncomfortable or surprised.

I have to believe that writing will continue to carry us. Muriel Rukeyser writes, "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." Our stories may be the most vital currency we have right now. They have the power to open people's hearts to one another. Our voices are the key that could set us free.

Of course, writing in the midst of fear or anxiety is no small feat. And too many folks have lived their whole lives with their voices being undermined, mistrusted, or ignored. What's happening now may be new pain but also all-too-familiar pain. So for the little circle of the universe that I hold, it feels important to say it directly: Voice & Vessel remains a safe space to go to the page. Whatever shapes your story -- whatever religion or spiritual path, whatever race or culture, whatever class, whatever gender, whatever family, whatever passions, whatever curiosities -- you are welcome here.

This reflects my own values, and it's also baked right into the affirmations and practices of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method. Every time we write, we gather as equals. We share in creative risk. We work to listen deeply when we share our writing. Now more than ever, I'm leaning on those parts of the AWA Method to hold space with folks.

There's something beautiful about practicing a method that's 30+ years old and being offered around the world in concurrent workshops. I like to think that all of us, globally, using the method right now are carrying each other. And when we leave our workshops, perhaps we carry the spirit of the method into our homes and communities. (I'm working on this one... if I could listen to everyone in my life like I listen in the workshops, I'd probably have about 200% more love to go around.)

When I started this note, I imagined sharing a handful of writing prompts to support you, in case you're feeling a little anxious, afraid, challenged, or just plain tired. But maybe this isn't a moment for over-practicing and over-prompting. There are many paths, but maybe we can see where just one takes us, and then try another at another time.

So I'll leave you with one of my very favorite prompts, one that always pulls me back into my feet and settles me in my heart. I hope it brings even a little of that energy to you:

I am here to remember...

With hope for the stories to come...


This post originally appeared at VoiceandVessel.com.

Writing as Advocacy

Writing takes so many forms. Sometimes it's a joyful and personal practice. Sometimes it's a letter to a loved one. Sometimes it's a story that cracks open a new world. And sometimes writing is a tool for change. I'm thinking about that last one in the wake of another police shooting. I haven't always been sure about my relationship to writing as advocacy, even though I worked in social change for a long time. When you're at the table with people trading money, influence, and political strategies to end homelessness or fight childhood hunger or get equal pay for women, one poem starts to feel small. But I've been rethinking that as I move into a different space in my life and creative process, and as the times prove again and again that money, influence, and political strategies aren't enough. There is a gap in empathy, connection, and awareness that maybe only art can fill.

Maybe this is the advocacy of writing: the poetry of waking people up. Over at Voice & Vessel, I posted more about this and shared some of the writers who are asking me to wake up.

Jane Hirshfield on Living by Questions

"In times of darkness and direness, a good question can become a safety rope between you and your own sense of selfhood: A person who asks a question is not wholly undone by events. She is there to face them, to meet them. If you’re asking a question, you still believe in a future. And in times that are placid and easy, a good question is a preventive against sleepwalking, a way to keep present the awakening question that's under all other questions: 'What else, what more?'"