Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two Years of Morning Pages

Today is my two year anniversary of Morning Pages. Incidentally I find myself in the same spot where I began this practice in earnest: on the banks of the Potomac at the conference my former online writing group organizes at regular intervals. Kind of fortuitous, isn't it? Auspicious even?

Over these two years I have filled these five notebooks with my early morning scribbles, and they have become dear friends to me. They harbor not only what's on my mind and comes out through my hand each morning, they are also where my lists of ideas and tasks live, and where I glue in the occasional memento, such as a ticket stub from a show I loved, or the acceptance letter from a publication I was thrilled to get into. Morning Pages books are where little celebrations find a home, where the hohum of everyday life comes to a halt to get looked at.

I am deeply happy when I can settle into my spot on the couch at home, while the house is still quiet, to write my Morning Pages. It's an early morning gift of happiness to myself. Writing Morning Pages is not discipline (I hate that word.). Rather, Morning Pages are visiting with myself, casting an anchor. If, for some reason, I don't get to do my Morning Pages routine for a few days, I feel unhinged.

So, while I began the Morning Pages practice two years ago in a quest to keep the flow of writing going, I am, more than ever, indebted to Julia Cameron for recommending this practice because it has become a cornerstone of steadiness and happiness in my life.

More on the rationale of Morning Pages here, here and here.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy Passover with my German Grandmother's Hazelnut Torte

I'm in the midst of getting ready for Passover, but I wanted to share that my grandmother's signature Torte made it to Tablet Magazine.

Story and recipe here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Online Memoir Class

As part of my role as writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home, I will be teaching a four-week online class on how to write short memoir in May. I just wrapped up teaching this class in person in the parlor of the Hemingway House, and it was a truly lovely experience. What a setting! The online class will include video lectures from the Hemingway House (I think that will be extra fun!).

Through my many years of teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago, I've concluded that writers are more likely to find success by going small, by distilling one particular event into a short memoir rather than struggling with a book project. Your memoir can simply be a series of short pieces (which are, incidentally, also easier to publish), or you might, once you're comfortable with the shorter form, venture to write a larger piece.

Here are some examples of short memoirs that my students have published and that are available online:

Wednesdays and Sundays by Susan Wigoda
Frozen by Barbara Coe
Surfacing by Kelley Clink

Incidentally, Kelley Clink has gone on to write a book-length memoir, A Different Kind of Same, that is coming out this June.

Each week this class will focus on one aspect of craft crucial to effective storytelling, as well as a particular realm of memory, such as writing about a favorite smell or a meaningful place. This will show you how to create vivid writing while also bringing to life a pivotal memory that has universal appeal. Class begins May 4, runs for four weeks via email and a blog, and includes feedback on one manuscript (up to 1,000 words) from me and your classmates. I hope to "see you," virtually anyway, at the Hemingway House!

Register through the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sunrise @ Masada

Escapism is in order! I have been frustrated and uninspired after months of querying and not finding a home for my memoir manuscript. In addition, one obligation is following another, chores are piling up, and the world outside is drab. Time to transport myself to another world! For example Masada, where I went with my daughter in December.

She insisted on doing the sunrise climb, and so we left our hotel in Ein Boqeq a little after 5 a.m. for the half hour drive north to Masada. The beauty of an early morning undertaking is that hardly anybody is around, even at major tourist attractions like Masada. Only a few other cars were in the parking lot, and the snake path that winds up the 1,000 feet to the Masada plateau was deserted.

The badlands along the Dead Sea in the haze of early morning.

Here comes the sun over the Moab Mountains in Jordan.

We made it to the top - quiet and empty.

Strolling about ancient ruins with the Judean mountains all around.

Model of what Masada looked like in its glory under King Herod.

My favorite spot at Masada is the ruins of the North Palace. It is such a testament to King Herod's mania to build a luxurious palace with bath houses and pools on a terrace perched on the rock face of the northern cliff overlooking this desolate vastness of the Dead Sea Valley. The Masada fortress never served a strategic purpose, nor did it guard an old trading route or an important geographic feature. Herod simply built it because he could. Later, in 70 A.D., it famously served as the stronghold of the last stand of Jewish rebels against the mighty Roman Empire.

 Synagogue and mikvah (ritual bath) from Jewish rebel times.

Ah! The vistas!

We also ventured under the surface of the plateau into one of its giant cisterns.

When the golden light of morning had dissipated, we took the cable car back down, which reminded me of riding cable cars in the Alps as a kid. Very different scenario here, though. It's eerie to see the remnants of the Roman siege forts all around Masada; it makes it seem as if that war hadn't happened all that long ago (almost 2,000 years, in fact).