Mood/Phenomena

Super Blood Wolf Moon, Jan. 21, 2019

Super Blood Wolf Moon, Jan. 21, 2019

The Super Wolf Moon rising Jan. 21, 2019, pre-eclipse.

The Super Wolf Moon rising Jan. 21, 2019, pre-eclipse.

I’m forever entranced by natural phenomena, starting with that early kid-fascination with the magic way the world breathed and grew. I liked earth sciences and would come back from recess with my pockets stuffed with rocks. The interest remained on some level, and, as a college freshman at a loss for any other ideas, I declared a major in geology. I liked the first class but got a D, more interested in the story part of the histories and less interested in carbon dating and half-lives. I moved on to an environmental science class, less connected to the science part than the what-will-life-be-like-if-we-don’t-fix-things part. Those questions launched my first attempt at a novel, and I still turn to the natural and supernatural to pull me into the next fictional wormhole.

So when most of North America experienced a total lunar eclipse, I waited in the frigid night. This wasn’t just any eclipse, but a Super Blood Wolf Moon, so named because the moon appeared larger being at perigee, its closest point to Earth, and for its blood-red color and for the particular month that gives nicknames to each moon. Things look different during an eclipse. The moon took on a three-dimensional, shadowy quality, a pseudoMars. A thin crescent of dim whiteness remained at the top, creating the illusion of a polar cap. For horror writers, maybe a bloody glowing eyeball. I set my phone alarm and stood outside at increments to avoid freezing to death, each time seeing the narrowing white crescent reflected in the windshield of a car.

Screenshot from CBS News/Denver

Screenshot from CBS News/Denver

Things also looked different this week when the polar vortex descended upon the Midwest and people experienced life in temperatures with a windchill of 50-degrees-below-zero. I missed it, this time around, having escaped to the south—but remembered enough -40-plus events to describe it to a friend who grew up in the south. She asked how cold it had to get before things started shutting down—well, this cold. In Wisconsin, snow days are somewhat hard to come by—we’re set up to deal with it, for the most part—but it happens maybe once or twice a year. Doors close more rarely because of the cold, but this week, even the post office said ‘nope.’ Even bars closed. Life gets lived more internally, both in metaphor and reality, and ‘outside’ becomes a new kind of entity, a nemesis, a temporary apocalypse. For years, this week will become the weather by which all weather is measured.

It’s great stuff for setting a mood in writing, for creating place. A force that strong will inevitably reach its cold hand somewhere in a story, as will the blood-red moon, comets and meteor showers, earthquakes and volcanoes. I still gather those rocks and stuff them in my pockets.

 

Purple and green/by Barbara Heffernan

By Suhail Kapoor on  Unsplash

By Suhail Kapoor on Unsplash

At a young age, I learned I was not creative.

Rain poured from the sky, shrinking the tiny upstate New York cabin by the minute. 

My younger sister and I finished coloring butterflies.  The enticement of the myriad crayon colors had waned, and we now needed a judge.  My mom, focused on the baby in her arms, shooed us away, not wanting to judge. But we bugged her and bugged her.

She picked my younger sister’s coloring.  She told me purple and green don’t go together.

But what I heard is, “You are not an artist.  That is not your role in our family.”

I went on to excel in the exciting, crazy-making world of Wall Street in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s.  The highs of Wall Street compensated for a truly miserable lifestyle until I could stand it no longer.  In desperation, I walked into a self-help career group that happened to be doing a Vision exercise: free-write, in the present tense, what you truly desire.

What sprung from my pen was a vision of myself sitting in a window seat in a country home studying Jung and Freud.  It seemed crazy. I was embarrassed to read it aloud, which we were then asked to do.  Yet this group of strangers did not think it bizarre that a successful Wall Street executive would have such a vision. 

Within a few years, I had quit Wall Street, moved to a cozy home in Connecticut and gone back to school to be a psychotherapist.  It was the first experience I had of consciously creating my own life.

We all create every day.  We create the life we are living. Yes, there are constraints, of course.  The same as an artist who works within the constraints of canvas and oil paints, we all have to deal with the realities of our environment.  But within that, we have enormous room to design and build our lives. And one constraint we do not have to honor is the role prescribed to us by others.

At mid-life, I learned I am very creative.

And I continue to evolve and change.

I am creating online meditation courses to complement my psychotherapy practice, hoping to help greater numbers of people while increasing my geographic flexibility. 

I am creating time to write, as the time will not fall from the sky if I do not actively envision it.

Knowing I can’t evolve in a vacuum, I have consciously accessed communities that will support my transitions.  Last year, this included online classes to bolster my craft and the wonderful WOW retreat in Morocco to bolster my soul.  I walked away from the retreat believing in my identity as a writer, feeling enriched in ways I could not have imagined. 

 I am adding writer, poet and mindfulness teacher to my conscious identity.  Some may say these can’t all go together, or be added to psychotherapist.  Yet, we have so many roles.  I am also a spouse, a mother, a daughter of aging parents, a sister, a friend.  Who gets to decide which roles, and in what proportions? 

At this stage of my life, I do.

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I invite you to pick up your pen, set your timer for 10 minutes, breathe deeply and manifest the world you truly desire. Write as if that vision is already true. Use “I am” rather than “I will be.”  Let go of inhibitions.  If there are details you are unsure of, leave them for the universe to fill in.  Include the feelings you would like to have at this future date:  “I wake feeling peaceful and grounded…I am living the life of my dreams.”

The more spontaneously you write this, the better.

Now, read it to someone. 

 *

Barbara Heffernan is a psychotherapist and writer. She is the founder of Mindful Psychotherapy, a private practice in Norwalk, CT, specializing in trauma and anxiety.  Barbara has been a feminist since the age of five, and a Buddhist since the age of 31.  She has studied meditation in Tibetan Buddhist, Zen Buddhist, Hindu, and Shamanic traditions. She offers mindfulness instruction and is developing a series of classes titled Awaken Joy. Barbara has a BA from Yale University, an MBA from Columbia University and an MSW from Southern Connecticut State University.  She has three children, four stepchildren, a husband, an English sheepdog and a rotund orange cat. Barbara’s website is www.mindfulpsychotherapyllc.com

By Andrew Ridley on  Unsplash

By Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

Why cats are natural writing companions

A six-toed Hemingcat.

A six-toed Hemingcat.

Molly, my first writing companion.

Molly, my first writing companion.

For the past 22 years, I’ve had kitty friends keeping me company while I write. My first kitty Molly took up residence on an ottoman next to my desk while I painstakingly constructed my first novel, now my book-in-a-drawer, and since then, there’s always been a feline companion around to keep me on track.

Whenever I travel, I look for them, too, and they always seem to be looking back. Travel and creativity and cats have become a sort of natural trinity for me; whenever I’m out of my element these four-footed magical mascots seem to check in to see how things are going. They offer a sort of continuity and familiarity between solid ground and the ether of creativity.

Occhi Verde.

Occhi Verde.

In Tuscany where we stay for our retreat, my feline friend is Occhi Verdi—Green Eyes. The first year, in our writing circle near the end of the retreat, he joined us and settled into my arms, a farm cat but also an agritourismo cat; he knew how to welcome guests. The second year, we arrived and he marched up to me as if to say you have been gone an awfully long time. The following year, he greeted me during a breakfast sunrise, waiting not-quite-patiently for me to share my yogurt bowl.

 A few years ago a friend and I decided to take a winter trip to Key West. We went, marginally interested in Hemingway but more so in the six-toed cats, supposed descendants of his original companions.

We were entranced by the kitties, often named after famous people, that occupied the house and the grounds. We stood at the graves of Kim Novak and Willard Scott. We followed one confident feline who seemed to take over the tour. We explored the grounds. We said hello to cats perched on fence posts and lolling in the garden. They seemed bored with tourists but mostly tolerated our affection, except for the seven-toed Greta Garbo, who really did want to be alone.

Me with Greta Garbo, before she got reclusive.

Me with Greta Garbo, before she got reclusive.

The proper term for cat with more than the usual number of toes is polydactyl.

My cousin, a victim of spellchecker, once sent out a message that informed the family we got a new cat and she is a pterodactyl.

Hemingway isn’t alone. Lots of writers have shared their writing space with cats, and some like William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Joyce Carol Oates, and Nobel winner Doris Lessing have written books about them. For me, a cat’s special (and often weird) behavior provides metaphors for the creative process:

1.     Cats are like ideas. You can’t force them to come to you. When they do come, they’ve chosen you for a reason, and it’s best to pay attention. Nurture the relationship.

2.     Cats would rather sit. Writers sit. Writing is a solitary activity and sometimes we write for a long time and forget until we emerge from our bat caves and wonder where everybody went. Now you’re not alone, and you’ve got the best kind of company: One who gets you, and one who’s quiet.

Hazel.

Hazel.

3.     Cats are creatures of routine. A cat you live with will learn when you should be working. If you’re not where you’re supposed to be, he or she will often stare expectantly and incessantly or resort to meowing and nudging. My Maine Coon kitty Hazel was insistent that I sit where I was supposed to when I was supposed to. Writers need that: A reminder to sit down and focus.

4.     Cats also remind you when it’s time to take a break. There’s food, you know, and you do have to eat.

5.     Cats go directly to the source of pain. On a particularly painful day when a relationship ended, my sweet brown tabby/Siamese mix Molly curled up on my chest, finding the exact place where I felt the physical pain of emotional separation. As writers, sometimes we need to follow cats directly to the wound.

Rocket.

Rocket.

6.     Sometimes they know where the story is going before we do. Perhaps you’ve read about Oscar, the cat who could predict the deaths of hospice patients and sit with them in their final hours. This cat had an extraordinary sense. So do our characters. Let them tell the story and lead you to what’s happens next.

7.     They operate on instinct. My newly adopted 14-year-old lynx-point Siamese cat, Rocket, a darling who likes to lounge in the sun and drape himself on warm laps, nonetheless is an efficient mouser. There’s no moment of hesitation or thought – it just happens, and you find yourself with an unexpected and unsettling gift waiting for you. Writing can do that, too, offering up twists you really didn’t see coming.

Rocket, hunkering down.

Rocket, hunkering down.

8.     Sometimes they turn and scratch the shit out of you. The best characters can be those who don’t do what you expect them to do. Predictability is boring. Also, we each have those hair-trigger pain bodies that set us off – what are your narrator’s raw nerves? What is the moment, person or action that gets your character’s goat?

9.     Sometimes they tell you to just hunker down for now. The aforementioned Rocket prefers to curl up under a blanket. Sometimes the writing process can make us feel that way, and sometimes it’s okay just to stay in bed and regroup.

10. Cats are naturally curious, and so are writers. Wandering is good for our souls. Come wander with us in Mexico, Maine, Tuscany or Costa Rica. There’s room for you, and maybe you’ll even meet a friendly feline guide on your journey.

Marrakech cats.

Marrakech cats.

It's cold outside... heat up your writing in Mexico

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You’ve made your resolutions. Among them: Spend more time on your writing, your health, yourself. Maybe you have an idea about getting out of the winter cold and kickstarting your creativity in 2019. That’s why you’re here. Join us for five days on Isla Holbox, Mexico in March, and renew your focus on your work (or start writing for the first time… no experience necessary). We’ll do yoga in the mornings, and we’ll eat good food. We’ll give you lots of time to yourself. Sit in the sun, listen to the waves, explore the island and maybe even write something really cool.

We offer prompted writing sessions and guided feedback.  You’ll become a part of a community where you can explore the story you need to tell, whether you’ve been writing for a long time or are just starting to think that maybe you’d like to write. Read more and choose your week here.

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How Maine calls to artists/by Nancy Coleman

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What is it about Maine that calls to artists? What is it about Maine that stirs the Muse to speak?

I wonder if it’s the fog that wraps around us on an otherwise glorious summer day, that shuts gently the doors to perception of what is around us, that opens as quietly those internal shuttered gates?

“May I be as the fog,” became the opening line to a song that came to me as I sat on a rock on Mt. Desert Island on a June day years ago. I had been planning a hike, a paddle in the campground kayak around Somes Sound, a day of brilliant sunshine and striking contrasts in the deep blue of Maine’s Atlantic waters and the deeper greens of the pointed firs. A day, I had thought, that would inspire exhilaration, make me want to climb high and dive deep, make me breathe fully of her beauty. It could have been that kind of day. Maine summers are like that, breathlessly and breathfully inspiring.

But it would be a softer kind of day that greeted me when I stirred under the down coverlet in the six-person tent I was managing to fill quite well all by myself. Other than the cries of young gulls who swooped on the tide flats below me, a veil of quiet had fallen in the night. Where I had hoped for revelation, Mystery arrived in her stead. Brilliant blue and forest green had given way to the softest of greys. Distant views moved in close, disguising themselves as forest gnomes and unnamed emotions, the sadder kind, the kind that almost but not quite remembers something it once loved, the kind that longs for something it might never have. And around it all, stillness. Stay here, it said, stay hereThis could be the most beautiful day.

And really, it was. On the wings of the gulls and the tenderness of those grey clouds resting on the earth and the sea came a song:

 May I be as the fog, drifting in the bay

May I be as a leaf, graceful as it lays,

Grow as tender, as a flower, even more than I would dare,

May I come to be a dancer on a wing and a prayer.

I think this is a writer’s prayer as well, isn’t it? That we’ll come to the page with openness and readiness, without expectation but with every hope that we’ll be invited to dance? And although I would not ever want to give up one sparkling minute of that other kind of Maine summer day, the kind whose dazzle we cannot drink deeply enough, I’m always grateful now for the Muse of fog that turns us inward, retreating from our senses toward those inner mysteries, the ones that invite us to Stay. Stay here.

 ***

Join us on the Coast of Maine, June 22-28, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

The why and why not

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There’s a reason you searched “writing retreats” or clicked on something that led you here. Something that said Italy or Morocco or Mexico or Maine and yoga and wine and yes, okay, writing. Maybe it’s a bit of escapism — you’re sitting in your cubicle or at your kitchen table, wondering trying not to think of the dozens of “to do” list items you have that day and that evening and tomorrow and the day after that. Maybe the idea of scribbling in a journal overlooking the fields of Tuscan grapevines sounds like a great idea for a daydream. Maybe it’s crossed your mind that you’d love to be a writer but it’s too hard or it takes too much time or someone else must be way better than you. Maybe you don’t speak the language of whatever country you’re dreaming about and couldn’t imagine trying to navigate such a sea change.

Maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Something happens on our retreats. Not to everyone and not every time but frequently enough that we know we have something special going on. We’ve conjured the right combination of distance, time and beauty, and we call to the people who are ready to take a big step of faith into possibility, of believing that their light and passion exist somewhere inside even if they can’t quite feel it right then. We become each other’s magic.

We wanted this to be a different kind of retreat — there are places that offer in-depth critiques and there is a place for that. But we just want you to write, and to write without the pressure of it being “good.” We offer encouragement, positivity, and the cameraderie of creation. It can be a beginning point for a new piece of writing, a new direction for a current project, or just that — a beginning point, period. We write, yes, but we take the time to just be. Usually with yoga and probably wine and definitely good food and sometimes horses and other fun stuff.

We have space for you in Mexico, Maine, and oh, yes, we can still make room for you in Morocco. Come unlock your magic with us.

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Writing Prompts and Writing Retreats

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What’s the deal?

Why is it that we say we love to write, we want to write, we NEED to write and then, we don’t even sit down to do this thing that we love and want and NEED.

Or we sit down to do it, the writing that we love and want and NEED, and we don’t know where to start?

I have many ideas of what I want to write about, stories that have nagged at me for as long as I remember. Stories about shoes by the side of the road. Stories about the woman who lived in a tree.  Stories of the places that dead people go. And I’ve started many of them…

And then I don’t finish them.

We are just about the funniest things I know, us writers. Us people.

I’m not saying that all writers are like that. In fact, there are some writers that just hole up and forget to eat or smoke or straighten up their pen pots. I’m not one of them and I don’t hang out with them but I know they exist. I’ve read about them while I’m eating and smoking and fiddling around with my pen pot, trying to find the stream of inspiration to jump in.

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So I think the biggest reason that I created writing retreats is because I need help with writing. And it turns out that I am not alone – I’ve never gone to a writing retreat (either one that I created or one that someone else did) and been the only one there. And I’ve not been the only one who needed help holding still, help getting started, and help finishing.

Sometimes I like to be different. But when I am feeling insecure about something I want to do, feeling as though I am one of a glorious bunch of creative is like a divine boost.

Thank you to those who joined me in Tuscany.

I am so grateful for your help.

(Get) Made in Marrakech

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I don’t consider myself one of those people who falls fast in love with a place. Usually, I detest everywhere I go. So when I booked a week at an Airbnb in Marrakech with my husband and stepson this past February, I figured I’d mostly be in for a surprise. If anything, maybe I’d find it curiously fascinating. Educational. Cultural. Or maybe just a good, old-fashioned family challenge. You know, the kind of trip that goes down in a family’s history.  

We were not disappointed.            

I’ve been wanting to go to Morocco since I was eighteen and studying abroad in Spain. Back then it was (and probably still is) off limits and ill-advised for women traveling alone. It was a repeated refrain, set on surround-sound I’d heard from my parents, teachers and fellow study abroad peers: Whatever you do, don’t go to Africa.  

I wish I hadn’t listened. Morocco is like that old, new pal I wish I’d known sooner. I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without knowing the place. Something inside me was set free the moment I stepped off the plane, arriving into Marrakech’s Menara Airport. The plane pulled up and parked on the tarmac in front of the fancy, modern airport like no big deal. Without much delay, the passengers deplaned like capable adults instead of being treated like over-protected sheep, shuffled and herded onto a bus only to go three feet to the terminal.  It was unlike anywhere I'd ever been: We simply got off the plane and walked towards the airport -- no barriers, no orange cones, no bus, no people directing us where to go. No hullabaloo health and safety regulations, Hallelujah. Stepping foot into the warm February night was liberating. It’s what I envision travel used to be in the old days. Glamorous. (Maybe even fun?) I was flooded with relief that freedom without the anxiety of so-called ‘safety’ might actually still thrive in the world.

First moments in a new country are so trustworthy. If I think of all the first moments I’ve ever had arriving somewhere new and foreign -- they provide the perfect preview of a place. In Spain, it was gawking men and cigarette smoke. In New Zealand, a blast of greens and blues and birdsong. In Belize, thick, slow heat. In Egypt, windswept and wonderfully lunar. Marrakech was no different. It twinkled in a wide open, intoxicating abundance.

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Weaving in and out of Marrakech’s souks in the medina will teach you everything you need to know about life. In about five minutes. Who to trust, who not to trust, how to keep your wits about you, how to be lost, how to get found, how to haggle (and realize later you’ve lost), how to haggle (and realize later you have the hang of it), how easy it is to get ripped off, how hard it is to say no when you want something and how not to get hit by a donkey while a motorcycle whizzes past. If you don’t know a whole lot about life, the world or yourself, you’ll soon find out. All at once.

Incredibly full of flavor and people, scents and surprises, Marrakech is a warm, standing invitation, one that has been waiting patiently for you to say yes. And when you say yes, you enter into a contract, a covenant: here you are expected to fully embrace your part in the game of discovery. And if you are willing to be curious, to poke your head around walled entrances, to put your faith in strange, unsettling situations, Marrakech unveils herself to you unabashedly. Marrakech is a dazzling teacher, bringing out the wild, beautiful parts of yourself you hadn’t known you were made of.

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Come along with us November 4th - 10th for seven days of writing, yoga and filling our creative wells with the delights of the enchanting city of Marrakech.  The morning begins with rooftop yoga for all levels, followed by a locally-sourced breakfast. The days will balance writing sessions with opportunities for guided feedback while soaking in all that the city has to offer.  Evenings will be spent gathered together over a shared candlelit deliciously made meal, stargazing from the rooftop, or reading by the fireplace. Together, we will build a community where, regardless of your writing background, you will have the freedom to explore the story you need to tell.        



 

       

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Camp Cushy

Camp Cushy by Watershed 2017 by Bart Vermeulen

Camp Cushy by Watershed 2017 by Bart Vermeulen

You just never know what’s going to conjure from seemingly small things, do you.

Some years ago—okay, around 25 or so to be truthful, I met a young woman, a friend of my daughter’s, a young wild child that while I was very taken with her independent spirit, I did not want my daughter to hang with her unsupervised.

You get what I’m saying here.

I got to know her better over the next few years, came to understand more about how she came to be such a whirling dervish of a girl, and I even got to be part of encouraging her to go to college, to Goddard College to be specific, a school I had wanted to go to back when I was a whirling dervish about to graduate from high school.

We stayed in touch, more some times than others. She moved to Europe, finally settling in The Netherlands. I stayed here in Maine. I wrote her that I was finally going to Goddard myself for an MFA. She started an organization, Watershed, in Eindhoven to promote literature in all its forms. I started a company, Wide Open Writing, in the U.S. to nurture creative expression through writing, yoga and travel.

She had a child. I had a motorcycle accident.

She wrote me to say how awful and to ask if, when I recovered would I be interested in coming to Eindhoven to teach in her Watershed summer workshop, Camp Cushy. I could not imagine recovering, really, but I said yes as much out of hope and habit as anything.

Juliet and I are now in our second year of Camp Cushy. I don’t believe that either of us could have imagined this and I continue to marvel at the mysterious and circuitous routes by which we came here. This podcast is part of a Watershed project called Radio Slik.

I still don’t know where all this goes. I don’t know why I didn’t die in my accident anymore than I know why she wasn’t destroyed in the years when her life was a fucking nightmare.  I just know that now we work together bringing Camp Cushy forward, both getting to watch the unfolding.

Stay tuned, Dulcie. Stay tuned, Juliet, the conjurer says. There’s more to come.  

Camp Cushy by Watershed 2017 by Bart Vermeulen

Camp Cushy by Watershed 2017 by Bart Vermeulen

WOW Wallooning

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It started as most things seem to do for us, a “hey, why don’t you…?” invitation that led to a “could we…?” and we found ourselves together again at the Walloon Lake, Michigan home of our good friend, author Robin Gaines. We intended it as a summit of sorts, a planning and strategy session, and we did some of that. But it went as it goes when we get together, an alchemy that churns and spins our souls into some kind of special collective gold. It sparkled in the sun and rain. We came together from faraway, through time zones, air and water, each of us carrying the bumps and twists of rocky pathways, knitting our distinctive selves. We share and reconnect. We conjure and we are just simply there together and somehow we see more clearly.

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While we were there, we visited the nearby Sweetwater Lavender Farm owned by another good friend (and Robin’s daughter) Kalin Sheick & her husband Matt. We pinched lavender between our fingers, the scent of hard work and passion and a little bit of luck. Setbacks happen, like the April snowstorm that wiped out a painful percentage of their lavender crop this year. They kept going. They continue to shape their farm into the vision they have for it. Meanwhile, there are flowers and weddings and daily living to be done.

Each of us – of you – work through our own snowstorms, metaphoric or not. They come. The weather changes, the pressure drops or intensifies, lightning strikes. We try to manage our daily lives while buried under three feet of snow. It’s never easy. Sometimes we pick up a shovel and get to work right away and other times we watch the light dancing on the crystals and wait. Sometimes we put pen to paper. Sometimes we open a bottle of wine and have a dance party.

We’re so grateful to Robin and Kalin for hosting us and giving us this time to breathe and see the light and magic of the lake and ourselves. We continue to shape our organization into what we envision, building our retreats and travels and offerings, and we look forward to having you become part of our beautiful, intricate tapestry.

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