Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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5 Parallels Between the Reasons to Vote and the Reasons to Write

November 6, 2019

Yes! Oh No! After an election, voters may feel a tirade of emotions, including elation, anger, sadness, joy, or disgust. Much like writers careening through their journeys, voters ride an emotional roller coaster every two to four years. And although the darker moments can be draining, neither the voter nor the writer should quit. Ever.

A vote in the United States is exactly what defines our country. Freedom. The right to express oneself was hard-earned—for Blacks, for women, and for the white men escaping the king’s laws during the dawn of our democracy. Voting is a privilege and a responsibility, but it’s more than that. Voting is voice.

A writer, too, has voice. Words on the page are executed, hopefully, with passion and organization. Not every writing piece will be well received. Not every candidate will win. Rejection and losing stink. But it is what makes a writer, a person, and a country grow. After a devastating loss, there are two choices: to quit or to pick up the pieces and persevere. So goes it for a well-seasoned writer.

Below are five parallels between the reasons to vote and the reasons to write.

Reasons to Vote

  1. your vote is your voice—you do make a difference
  2. votes lead to policies that will affect your community
  3. it is your right and responsibility
  4. prevent fascism and corruption
  5. become empowered and heard

Reasons to Write

  1. your writing is your voice—you do make a difference
  2. writing leads to words that will affect your community
  3. it is your passion and your prayer
  4. prevent junk reads and fake news
  5. become empowered and heard

Non-action never wins.

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The Sky and the Page

May 29, 2019
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Photo by Ákos Szabó on Pexels.com

 

To escape annual May snowstorms (truth), I find ways to write and work away from home. Although it would be lovely to hop on a plane and head somewhere exotic, I usually settle for something a bit more realistic.

Like Nebraska.

This year, after I finished grading papers and wrapping up the semester, I found a small space to rent on a Mennonite organic popcorn farm. Who knew? But the cabin was the perfect size and place for a writer on retreat. In addition to a chair and a bed, I had a small desk and an outside picnic table perched under a tree filled with songbirds. The property came with two happy dogs, chickens, cows, a couple of old barns, and gracious hosts.

To break up the writing, I took long walks down dirt roads. Sky surrounded me in every direction, and it wasn’t hard to imagine pioneers plodding across the prairie in their covered wagons. Not much changes on the prairie.

Except the sky.

The sky in Nebraska was nothing short of spectacular, opening itself with outstretched arms. Birds welcomed the sun in the morning and sung it goodnight in the evening when the colors changed from dusty blue to violet black. The wind whipped across the grasslands. Throughout the day, clouds came and went, gathered and scattered. In the distance, lightning struck, and rain fell.

As I wrote, the sky became my metaphor for the page.

The morning skies ushered the sun, and my day began with hope. As my shoulders warmed, my writing worked. But later, I struggled for the correct word, the just-right sentence. Thoughts jammed inside my head like the clouds cramming together to block the sun.

I slammed my computer shut. The rain came. Finally, when the smell of sweet grass filled the air, a fresh idea, a different twist and take on the story, came to mind. My fingers flew across the keyboard as the shape of the sky transformed into something new, something breathtaking.

During my stay, the pattern of change repeated itself. When the rain arrived, or the sun seared, I took breaks. I played with crayons and read stories. I napped. When my thoughts struggled, I moved. I walked and ran and drove across the prairie, and eventually, new ideas appeared. Allowing myself space to stand back gave me and my work renewed life.

The Nebraskan sky spoke to me. I surrendered to its never-ending bursts and applied that to my work. I paid attention to the way the sky, my writing, and my life transformed throughout the day. Harmony. My work had its challenges, but like the sky, I had amazing moments, stretching far and wide.

Both beauty and words arrived.

 

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Quotes (for me and maybe for you, too)

February 10, 2019
choices decision doors doorway

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As the light slowly begins to return to the Northern hemisphere, so does change. At least for me. For reasons I’ll write about soon, these quotes speak to me, and I hope, for you as well.

Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

–Anne Lamott

The root of the problem lies in the way we deal with change. Most of us feel soinsecure that we want to create a structure around us makes us feel safe and then wedon’t want it to change. Any change increases our uncertainty and our confusion andour inadequacy. And it frightens us

Think of how bizarre that is, because you are a part of nature. Look out there, and youshow me something out there that isn’t changing. The nature of things is that theychange, including us. Do you see how you’re in a losing strategy if you pit yourselfagainst change? See, it’s a losing game.

-Ram Dass

The road to something is the start of something.

–K. GiselleBasilwango

…Only we can create that change—with skills like cooperation, community, cohesion, collaboration—that will see us through this dark night of the planet’s soul. The roots of each word is “co”, meaning together. Only with others can we create a kind, flourishing world. However (and this is hard), it means banishing the idea that your outrage and effort alone can fix this. It can’t. Only together can we right the wrongs, heal what has been broken, and over come the obstacles ahead. Together.

-JenHofmann jen@jenniferhofmann.com

 

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Babka and the New Year

September 25, 2018

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As often is the case, I stormed into fall with an agenda the size of the Great Pumpkin. But in spite of my overreaching goals and the stress that comes with over-commitment, I love fall. For me, it’s a high energy time, offering great possibility. It begins with a nervous tingle in my tummy, flashing back to early school mornings; organizing papers and picking new pens, and moves into a fresh, clean slate.

This past week, my husband and I hosted a dinner on Yom Kippur—the holiest of Jewish holidays. Unlike my husband, I’m not Jewish, but it is a time I’ve come to honor. The day is spent in prayer while fasting, and the dinner is appropriately named ‘break-fast.’ Living in a small mountain town means our community of Jewish friends is also small. But we gather. For break-fast, friends bring dishes easy on a starved stomach. My husband makes quiche (or buys it in a pinch), and I bake sweet bread. Someone brings bagels, lox, and whitefish while another makes kugel; a sweet and creamy noodle dish. There are platters of fruit, often a salad, cheesecakes and babka. As a breakfast girl, it is by far one of my favorite dinners of the year. But the real meaning behind break-fast is not the food; it’s a time to reflect and repent; then share, in community, the freshness of a new year.

Some say Yom Kippur is a day to atone for your sins, but this shiksa doesn’t believe in original sin, so I maintain a different spin. For me, all days should have elements of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude, not one day a week or one day a year. I like to think of Yom Kippur as a crowning day—a day to honor ALL the days of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.

And it is a day to forgive myself.

I often fail at a lot of things; my writing, my parenting, my meditation practice, my wellness. I’m not always so gentle with myself during times of failure. I self-sabotage my plans and nurture bad habits instead of healthy ones. But in the failure, I learn. I’m humbled. And after, I pick myself up and begin again.

This year, I hope to confront failure with forgiveness and find compassion for myself as well as for others. I’m filled with gratitude for having grown, making the failures hurt a little less.

As I write, noshing on leftover babka and sip sweet tea, I surprise myself—I’m cultivating a new practice; divinely inspired by fall. Gratitude.

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How Ursula K. Le Guin Taught Me to Keep Writing

August 23, 2018

When I stopped writing a column for our local paper, I stopped writing essays.

Big mistake.

I lied to myself, rationalizing reasons why. I stopped because I needed to focus on fiction writing. I stopped because I was too busy teaching. I stopped because of limited time left with teenagers at home. Mostly, I’d stopped writing essays because I didn’t know what to do with them and was plagued by self-doubt.

I questioned whether or not I should seek publication elsewhere, continue my blog, or squirrel the words away, stuffing them into a folder. I wasn’t sure where to focus. If I continued writing essays, did I need to concentrate on particular issues? Should I write about writing, about politics, about parenting or relationships or emotional hardships or my dog? Themes and thoughts triggered my words, but I left them floating adrift.

Perhaps, at the deepest level, I wondered if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. Who was my audience? Who cared?

Maybe no one.

But as days pushed by and words tackled pieces of my brain, begging to escape; I realized it didn’t matter. Writing essays, whether they were political rants or deep misgivings, gave me a therapeutic vent for my rambling thoughts. I needed a place to put my volatile emotions and passionate beliefs.

I recently read No time to Spare; Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection of blog posts and realized she wasn’t writing to anyone in particular. She had no consistent theme. She wrote about age, she wrote about her cat. Her words screamed, they whispered, they laughed. She clearly didn’t give a damn who read her written thoughts. She wrote them because she had no choice.

Although I enjoy teaching, writing fiction and crafting story is my life’s work. I care about plot and characters and theme. I want to publish, but for me, writing fiction is different than writing essays. I don’t care who reads my contemplations—but because I can’t stop them—why not write them anyway? With that knowing, I’ll continue my blog. I’ll publish on Medium. I’ll send a few letters to the editor. I may write haphazardly about ideas and issues; perhaps I’ll write weekly; maybe bi-monthly.

The only think I do know? I’m back writing essays.

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A Published link…

April 24, 2018

This was published on MEDIUM but the link’s not working so I’m republishing here.

View at Medium.com

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For a writer, late April often conjures up scenes of tulips and daffodils; poets whisper words about sweet smelling cherry blossoms, the taste of crisp asparagus, and the sound of evening birds singing goodnight. But not this April.

During my five days at a Getting to Know your Novelworkshop with Sarah Aronson at the Highlights Foundation, it rained like a Dublin downpour and snowed like a mid-winter blizzard. Every. Single. Day.

But just as Sarah promised, magic came anyway.

My time in Pennsylvania moved my writing and made me think harder, clearer, and deeper about my characters. I thought about their needs. I thought about mine. I shifted arcs, developed plot, and asked more questions. I met fantastic folks who stretched my beliefs about my book and pushed me further. Hopefully, I did the same for them. We arrived from various places: Chicago, Vermont, San Diego, Colorado, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and more. By the time we left, we had uncovered a common home at Highlights.

As weather pounded the roof and muddied the ground, we wrote. Sarah, and her team of teaching assistants, shared secrets and wisdom, inspiring us. We wrote more passages, talked craft, and edited work, while experiencing the writers’ buzz—the kind of buzz that causes one to stay up late and wake up early—only to repeat the experience. Each morning, we met with eager words, new ideas, and sometimes, a bit of frustration. However, when our red-inked pages turned on us, making us squeeze our eyes shut and silently scream; we had each other.

Highlights is more than a place; it’s an escape from ‘regular’ life. It’s a space to dive into a literary extravaganza. A writing community is essential for a writing life, and I’m grateful for all my teachers and partners in this process. By the end of the workshop, I had discovered some of Sarah’s sparkly glitter and the kind of magic a place like Highlights brings to the writer’s desk.

In each of our rooms, we found black notebooks filled with notes from other writers who had stayed at Highlights. I snapped a picture of someone’s quote from Seamus Heaney, summing up a Highlights experience.

The main thing is to write for the joy of it… Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

And I will.

 

 

 

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Christmas Lights and the Gap

December 1, 2016

I’m not sure why my dad always chose the coldest day in December to put up the outside Christmas tree lights, but invariably, he did. First, he’d ramble up to the attic and hand me boxes of green and blue lights, and then we’d spread them in the living room to check if they worked. Instead of going to Wal-Mart and buying a new string, we’d carefully replace each defective bulb until all 8000 lit the room.

The tree outside was enormous. Dad would climb on his tallest ladder and use a rake to get them as high as he could. He swore a few times, and our feet froze, but when he’d flip the switch, and the tree blazed with blue and green lights, magic happened. For me, nothing was more beautiful. I never noticed the gaps, void of light that my dad pointed out, grumbling about his work, wanting perfection.

We don’t do outside tree lights at our house now, but I am in charge of stringing tiny, white bulbs on our inside tree. Really, it’s a thankless job. They tangle; they get stuck on branches; they burst; and they crack. But at the end of the day, the room is lit with magnificent light: until. Until I see what my dad saw—the gaping hole, a spot in the middle of the tree too tall to reach. By the time I’ve noticed, the kids have covered the branches with ornaments and tinsel, and it’s too late to fix. The gap remains.

I’m trying hard to reverse my thoughts about the holes in life.

Too often, an artist desires perfection, unable to see the beauty in the entire piece and instead, focuses on the gap. Writers and painters adjust, repair, and fine-tune their work until it’s done, but often, they continue to see a tiny hole; something that’s not quite right in their eyes. Most writers I know look at their published work and still see holes to fix. Not big ones, not ones that anyone else sees, but the tiny slices that need repairing only to the artist.

As a writer, I’m always editing (just ask my kids). But I’m working on letting go of the perfection. There may always be a gap. That’s the way life works. And if the rest of the world sees beautiful light, so should we.