Tag Archives: writing

The Earth Still Weeps For My Brother

“I’m just goin’ down the road feelin’ bad,
tryin’ to get to Heaven before they close the door.”

This phrase from the Bob Dylan song (from his 1997 album, Time Out of Mind) has been on my mind from the moment I woke up this morning. It took me until noon to figure out why. Five years ago today, my brother Steve had been goin’ down the road feelin’ bad. Five years ago today, he drove his well-worn red truck into a gravel pit on the outskirts of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada, and took his life.

Bob Dylan was his hero in life. Bob Dylan’s music is Steve’s emissary in death.

In 2008, I launched Did You Know I Would Miss You? – A Healing Journey, a memoir/guidebook about mending the heart after losing a loved one to suicide. (I’ll be giving a talk about it at Banyen Books in Vancouver on May 13 6:30-8:00 PM.) Having felt pretty light ever since, I have assumed that I no longer needed to walk the healing path.

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Surfing the Creative Doldrums

A couple of days ago I hit a low point. Too low to write a blog. And a good thing too – it would have been no fun to read. And so, instead of burdening my readers with unassimilated angst and rampant inertia, I headed straight for my journal, my favourite safe haven, and wrote the following:

“I have a ‘should’ about moving forward with my creative work today. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do anything today except read, eat, stare out the window, make some phone calls. I don’t want to market my writing services, I don’t want to work on my book on deconstructing spiritual communities. I don’t want to move forward on my plan to make May a month of creative celebration. I do not feel inspired – at all. I feel absolutely unmotivated. I can see kitesurfers from my living room window. Perfect wind conditions. Gorgeous sunny day. It must be heavenly out there in that rollicking indigo ocean. Did they have to drag themselves out of bed, force themselves onto the highway in their Acura MDX with board strapped to the roof, fight their way into their slightly damp and clingy wet suit? Not likely. In the mood I’m in today, I would have rolled over.”

I know this state well enough to recognize it as the creative doldrums, a transitional state that happens after a time of intense busyness and focus. Once the big project is done, then what? The adrenalin is still high from the big push and with nowhere to apply it, panic sets in and the mind goes into overdrive. What if I never work again? What if I’ve got writer’s block? What if I should have gone to library school? One idiotic thought follows another.

I took three deep breaths. Then I took seven more. With sanity returning, I watched the kitesurfers soaring and looping and sailing through the air. Like them, I let go of everything – the to do list, the expectations, the shoulds – everything except the experience of being alive. Like them, I allowed myself to be carried beyond my fear. Like them, I opened up an ocean of possibility.

After a day or so of no obligations and absolute freedom to do whatever brought me joy, I was getting up with the seagulls to work on my book for a couple of hours before the beginning of my work day, I was planning my May of creative celebration. I was riding the wave.

Nothing Bad Ever Happens to a Writer

Below is an example of how an apparent misfortune for the human is a gift from the Gods for the writer.

Last evening, I worked up the courage to attend a Singles event. It had been recommended to me by a discerning friend who had also been single for many years, but who had recently met a wonderful man with whom she was falling in love. They had both been referred to this event. I took it as a sign.

The write-up on the website described it as an evening for adults over 40 “looking to share their gifts with a significant other” or “with a spiritual calling to find harmony and balance in their relationships.” The quote by Rumi – “Your Task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” – resonated with how I have tried to live my life and to deal with my confusion, emotional clamour and cynicism in the realm of love, and so I was looking forward to meeting others with a similar intention.

Having managed to find an attractive, age-appropriate yet playful outfit, make room for the confusion, emotional clamour and cynicism within, and be open to what the evening had to offer, I felt pretty relaxed as I drove for 45 minutes through the last remnants of rush hour traffic, crossed a couple of bridges, and found my way there. Doublechecking the address, I saw that yes, it was indeed the Unity Church, which I tried not to be put off by. I have nothing against the church or its adherents, some of whom are dear friends, but I confess to having judgments about it being spiritually vague, precious, New Agey, and female-dominated. What guy is going to want to come here? But I told myself to set my prejudices and raging cynicism aside and just be open and curious. I walked in the door. It was eerily quiet…like a church. A serene space with beautiful artwork on the walls, but not a lot of laughter and no male voices. A sweet young woman, well beneath the 40+ age limit for whom the event was intended, collected my $35 and gave me a self-sticking name tag.

I walked into the room and saw about 12 people, all women except for one man, sitting in a circle. One of the hosts, an attractive woman in her 50s or 60s, saw me and said, heartily, “Don’t be shy. Come and sit down.” (In that moment, the clamour of emotions didn’t include “shy.”) I filled a paper plate with salad and some pieces of sandwich, and joined the circle. The host made a comment about how the men would come in droves if they saw a picture of “all of you beautiful women here.” I look around. There weren’t too many happy faces. The lone man assured us in his nasal reedy voice, “I could take you all on!” perhaps intending to be humourous and ironic and inject some much-needed male energy.

As I choked down my spinach salad and bits of smoked salmon wrap, I tried to tune in to the conversation. The hosts, who never introduced themselves, knew some of the people – it seemed as though some (including the man) may have been therapy clients – and they were talking about things and events comprehensible only to those in the facilitators’ immediate circle. Neither of the hosts asked my name or made any attempt to include me or anyone else whom they didn’t already know. I tried to contribute something to the conversation but it was ignored. Mary, the woman sitting next to me, a Celtic storyteller, tried to interject the odd droll comment, but was also ignored. I felt like asking if she wanted to escape and go for a beer (I don’t even drink beer) but the second facilitator, who seemed stern, but was perhaps just uncomfortable that this “singles event” was such a bust, was sitting next to her.

It was 7:30, I was almost finished my salad, and was wondering how I was going to make it to 10:00. I felt as thought I was trapped at a bad dinner party to whom I had been invited by a man with whom I was in a relationship that I knew perfectly well was doomed. I went to the washroom, acknowledged to myself the obvious – I wasn’t having any fun and didn’t like the people (except for Mary) – and made an executive decision to leave, even though it would be absolutely obvious to all, and even though the pleaser within was aghast. The sweet young woman well under 40, who had collected my $35, smiled and asked me if I had had a good time. I mumbled an obvious lie about a family crisis, asked her to make my apologies to the group, and left.

I’m still puzzling over this statement on the facilitators’ handout given out that night: “Our aim is to answer the need of communication of friendship facing adult singles today.” Huh? The good news is that I didn’t stay, thereby vaulting over what I have discovered over a lifetime of experimentation to be a significant barrier to love – trying to please people who could care less. I think Rumi would have approved. Too bad he’s been dead for 736 years and probably not available.

Write as if No One is Reading

We’re all familiar with the fridge magnet adages – “Sing as if no one is listening,” “Dance as if no one is watching,” etc. But does that apply to writers? Does it make sense to write as if no one is reading?

Of course it doesn’t. What sane person wants to drag his or her sorry bag of bones out from under the flannel sheets at 5 AM to write a blog that no one is going to read. Well, besides you.

Well, me. Why? Good question. I don’t know why. Nobody’s going to care. Except me.

I’ve been corresponding with my writer friend, PJ Reece, the only person on the planet I envy. A financially independent expat writer living in a charming flat in Mazatland who, when he isn’t taking salsa lessons, lounging on the beach, or listening to live jazz at the nearby plazuela, is ” just trying to finish a fucking novel, which grows in size the more I work on it. It’s out of control, my dramatic thrust has vanished, a red flag that always indicates a problem at the beginning…I must sit back in astonishment at how I’ve manifested this sometimes shabby, occasionally chic, but actually very normal paradise.”

Doncha hate him? He’s also a fine writer, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve known him for 40 years (we were both in utero of course). Check out his blog and find out for yourself. You will be one of the few, as he admitted in a recent letter: “Are you reading my blog? Don’t worry. No one else is either. But here we go…that shouldn’t bother us.”

He’s right. It shouldn’t. Three days a week I get up at 5 AM to work on my upcoming book, “Where Mystics Walk.” It’s my covenant to myself. Will anyone read it? Dunno. I’ve got a bulging inbox full of projects for hire, but writing my February newsletter as well as this blog, neither of which pay, had to come first this morning. Like most wonderful things in life, writing as if no one is reading is not a rational act. It’s far more glorious than that. It’s an act of faith.

So get writing. No  one will care. But that shouldn’t bother you.

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” Don Marquis

Keeping An Open ‘Art

My secret reason for writing a blog, and maybe even for getting up in the morning, is my longing for fulfillment as an artist.

It’s an odd thing to say given that I’ve recently produced a book, Did You Know I Would Miss You?, have written award-winning TV shows and, thanks to my work as a freelance writer and editor of dozens of publications, have managed to avoid having a real job for well over 30 years.

And yet my yearning for creative fulfillment howls in my bones like a starving wolf. Gathering up material to teach my creative writing course, Write a Wild Horse, a few years back, I was relieved to come upon the following quote by Steven Spielberg: “Have I really pushed the envelope as much as I want to? Not yet. Maybe that’s why I’m still hungry.”

Hey, if the Holy Grail of creative attainment still eludes one American cinema’s most commercially successful directors, then there’s hope for all of us.

And as with all things unfulfilled, I can find my biggest detractor by looking in the mirror, where I can spot stubborn traces of old assumptions about what an artist is. Growing up in the 1950s, if my parents or any of their friends referred to someone as “arty,” it was not a compliment. The term conjured up images of someone pretentious, odd, undesirable. A weird dresser. Worse than being a person who could not be relied upon to live a sensible life, never mind a moral one, an arty person didn’t belong.

Living in a family that moved every couple of years because my father was a Mounted Policeman, my sense of belonging already felt tenuous. Being unorthodox in any way was death – worse, humiliation. Unthinkable. And so I conducted myself in ways that would please those upon whom I depended for my sense of OK-ness. I kept up reasonable grades in an education system that rewarded obedience over originality; I stayed out of trouble; I stayed below the radar. I survived.

In the 1960s, even a small prairie university like the one I attended had its pockets of bohemian life. I was drawn to them like bedbugs to a basement suite. It didn’t matter to me if I had to sit in a smelly cellar, drink bad coffee and listen to music that sounded a lot like a traffic jam, or watch European films like Bergman’s Persona, or read books like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.  Of course I didn’t get any of this stuff. Yes, I faked an artistic sophistication that I hadn’t earned. Just like I used to fake swimming as a little girl by flailing my arms and legs while my tummy was safely on the bottom of the ocean.  But I was reaching for something beyond what I’d been taught and what I’d believed to be true. I was responding to a call from my soul.

Decades later I still am. If that yearning hasn’t gone away by now, my hunch is it won’t. And the clash between the well-brought-up girl and the avant-garde arty one hasn’t gone away either. What a relief. Without this exquisite tension disturbing my days and haunting my nights, I would be sleepwalking toward a safe and easy death.

The starving artist is not a deranged person living in a flophouse, eating cat food, and compulsively writing novels that no one will ever read. The one our parents warned us against. The starving artist is that creative call within each of us that we can no longer afford to ignore.

How do we aid and abet it? Especially when our days are full of tasks and obligations. Here are just a few of the things I do – in no particular order.

• Read a poem out loud first thing in the morning and then free write for 10 minutes.
• Dialogue with The Muse in my journal
• Go on an artist’s date, as suggested by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The only rule is it has to be fun, creative, inspiring – and solo.
• Grab an old journal, find the phrases and ideas that I find interesting (i.e., not whiny), and enter them in the appropriate file in my computer.
• Work on my book.
• Sing a song in French – at full volume.
• Dance to R&B in my living room.
• Go down to the ocean and watch the waves.

What do you do to feed your craving creative artist within? Email me at donaleen@donaleensaul.com and let me know.  And in the meantime, keep an open ‘art.

“To all those creative people who have been ridiculed, reprimanded, and rejected because of their slightly unorthodox right-brain way of doing things. It’s payback time.”
Lee Silber