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Friday Dispatch: Notes from the Compost Heap
From procrastination to practice
Since getting up today, around 6:15am, I have:
- taken Chalupa out to pee and given her breakfast
- had a cup of strong coffee (with one Splenda and a generous pour of half & half)
- checked email and responded to a few things
- greeted two online writing groups
- registered for three campus tours in April with my son
- done Wordle
- tidied up the kitchen
- washed some dishes
- made the bed
- chatted with my spouse
- texted with my daughter
- generally puttered around the house
- given my son a ride to school
- eaten a blueberry muffin
- petted my dog
- snuggled up under a blanket on the couch to write this newsletter
All in all, what we have here is an exceptionally unexceptional list of activities over the course of a few hours, not to mention a study in procrastination techniques. If you write, there’s a high likelihood you can relate in some way or another. What are some of your favored “anything but writing” techniques?
I didn’t really feel like writing yesterday, either. Today marks the last day of a two-week group called Three Little Words. The prompts have taken folks in all kinds of directions (including me!). Last night around 8:00pm when I realized I hadn’t written a word, I admit I groaned a little. I didn’t feel like writing. The world would not have noticed if I skipped it.
But I’d made a commitment to myself and to the folks in this group to show up, and so I did. My unedited
gobbledygook freewrite is below. I’m sharing it as an example of writing practice. And when I talk about writing practice, I am also talking about the practice is loosening self-judgment, relaxing the often hyper-critical part of us that constantly evaluates and judges. This part may be chiming in before you’ve even gotten to the period of your first sentence, telling you it’s bad, wrong, boring, etc. This part may suggest that your time would be better spent watering the plants, mopping the floors, or taking out the trash. This part may tell you you are wasting your time.
Showing up anyway becomes an act of defiance and devotion.
When we show up to practice, we are defying all manner of internalized expectations that everything has to amount to something and that we must always be “productive,” even in our creative process. In fact, the tyranny of productivity functions as a silencing mechanism, often keeping us from even starting, or cutting us off before we’ve given our work a chance to unfold. We are defying supremacist norms, however subtle, of comparing, competing, and keeping up. We are defying a world that screams at us to be better.
And we are choosing devotion instead: To being, to exploring, to playing, to taking our time, to self-acceptance and enoughness and connection.
At the end of the day, the majority of what I write will end up in a compost heap of words. And we all know what compost does – it nourishes.
So putter away, my friends. And then, come to the page. Write something terrible. And smile – you are practicing.
Shabbat shalom and love,
“Follow Your Heart”
I have broken my own rules (ok, suggestions) and tried to start this freewrite four different ways. The truth is (ah! three little words) I am not feeling particularly inspired to write today. Isn't that the whole point, though, to come practice even when you aren't inclined to show up? Yes and no... I have never been an absolutist when it comes to writing, i.e. if you don't sit and write every day for however long, you aren't serious about writing. I find stringency like that pretty uninteresting and also out of touch with the fact that everyone is different; what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. The truth is also that I do end up writing something many days a week, maybe even most, except when I don't. And it's ok not to. It's ok to sit this one out. It's ok to watch TV instead and have a bowl of Doritos. Or the whole bag. Whatever. Follow your heart. But what if your heart leads you away and never back? Has that ever happened to you? I've had plenty of periods where I didn't write a word. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say, or what I have to say hasn't coalesced in some way yet, hasn't swum up to the surface. So it's a little dance. One side is seeing if what I need is to show up, to say, I'm here – like the old man in the mini documentary I just watched with Pearl who brings apple slices to a family of five beavers everyday – and see if the writing comes swimming towards me. And on the other hand, it's leaving the beavers, that is, the writing, alone, and just doing something else for a while. It's ok to do something else. It's ok to take breaks. It's especially ok not to freak out if no writing is coming. It will come back. So yes, you kind of do have to show up enough that the beavers are expecting you with your apples, and you also have to have a light touch with yourself. So I am going to follow my heart now, close my laptop, and go join Mani on the couch. There might also be some Doritos in my future.
12 Weeks of Spring Fever!
I don’t know about you, but signs of spring make me downright giddy. (You might guess this if you meet me and see that my entire right arm is inked with birds, blossoms, and cute li’l critters.)
So I’m especially excited to be opening up spots for a couple of new folks to join the next 12-week Zoom writing session.
One weekly prompt gets you to the page (even if you procrastinate first)
Permission to write anything
Tuesdays, 11:30am-1:00pm EST
April 4-June 27
3 installments of $250
To sign up, drop me a note ASAP.
For an even more personal sense of what the group is like, read these reflections from a few recent participants (some of whom write right here on Substack – links below):
“I am so grateful to Jena. Through her creative prompts and the comfortable space she creates during class sessions, she helped me write about subjects I wouldn’t have thought to tackle and in a way I don’t usually write. The ninety minutes we spent in class each week were filled with warmth and encouragement and were deeply rewarding. It was a true pleasure to spend time with Jena and the other writers in my class.” – Adrienne Dern
“I have written with Jena in many of her groups over the years and I always look forward to the experience. Jena is a wonderful facilitator and she makes room for everyone (including those who aren't sure we are writers) to be seen, heard and supported in her groups. Her prompts often inspire me to explore unexpected places through writing. She also has a knack for attracting the most amazing people to her groups so that I walk away feeling like it was a gift to write with them. I have especially loved the 12-week writing groups this year and the opportunity to get to know a wonderful group of people through their writing.” – Maija Beattie
“I joined this group on a whim last fall and it is one of the best writing and life decisions I have made in ages. Jena's groups are always full of such generous and beautiful souls but this group feels extra special. We have connected as writers who share meaningful pieces and feedback each Tuesday morning as well as humans as we learn more about each other week to week through our words.” – Stacey Loscalzo
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