Writing From Body & Earth

Writing From Body & Earth

Writing From Body & Earth

with Marianela Medrano & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg 

1-4:30 p.m., Saturday, July 30

The Hummingbird Center for Common Ground, Berlin, Vermont (outside Montpelier)

Join us for an afternoon with two workshops -- "Writing From the Body" with Marianela Medrano and "Writing From the Earth" with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg -- in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

We live in concentric circles, starting at our most local home of our bodies, and rippling out through our homes, communities, ecoregions, planet, and universe. Poetry and the poetic power of language in prose especially – through its rhythms and sensory imagery – can be a pathway to connecting with body and earth. By writing about where we are – as bodies, and as part of the earth -- we can generate powerful, new writing as we deepen our sense of being at home in our skin and on the earth. We'll explore identity, callings, embodiment, personal history, ecology, and what it means to both live in specific bodies and places. Most of all, we'll be illuminating how to make the visible – what's right here in/of our bodies, dwellings, local terrain, weather and skies – more visible, and use that new vision as a lantern to lead us toward greater homecoming.

Writing From the Body with Marianela Medrano

Through the poetics of the body, we can create a renewal of personal and collective power, playfulness, and passion. Embodied writing gives us access to weaving the web of interdependence and interconnections that sustains us. Direct experiences, i.e., meditation and embodied writing, will draw new links between the creative and the sacred. We’ll write to capture our experiences in a way that elicits “sympathetic resonance,” or a natural response through which a reader “vibrates” empathically with the writer when reading or listening. We’ll become the very things we are describing—e.g., writing as if we were love to portray its texture, sound, flavor, scent, and appearance; for that, we’ll use all senses and retreat into silence to reel in what needs to be portrayed. The poetry of Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh will guide us. 

We’ll focus on the following: vivid and true-to-life depictions, bridging internal and external experiences, writing from the inside out, slowing down to capture nuances, attuning to the living body, and writing in the first-person, present tense. 

Writing From the Earth with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Our writing can help us forge deeper bonds with the places we live and traverse and what David Abram calls the “more-than-human species” all around us. Honing our attention and senses can help us bring to the page more original and vibrant detail, making the poem itself a place for the reader to enter and explore. We’ll experiment with prompts and approaches that bring greater presence to our poetry and lives while also considering the poetry of writers such as Pattiann Rogers, William Stafford, Joy Harjo, and others. Drawing from bioregional philosophy and experience, we’ll write from, for, into and out of the places where we are right now together and our home places. Through poetry, we can further open our sensory awareness – the ears of our ears and eyes of our eyes – to connect from our most local address, our bodies, to more of the living earth and changing sky around us.

The Hummingbird Center for Common Ground right outside Montpelier, Vermont comes out of the vision of its founder Suzanne Richman, who writes, "Through reflection, convivial learning and creativity, we seek to connect more deeply with ourselves, each other, and the places where we live. In doing so, we generate care and healing among diverse peoples and for the bioregion we call home." Find out more about the center here.

Registration: Fee (includes workshop, ample handouts, and healthy refreshments): $90 early bird rate and $120 after July 1. Partial scholarship available for those who qualify -- please contact Marianela here for more information. You can pay via Venmo (Caryn-Goldberg-2), and please send Caryn an email with your contact information. Or you can pay via Paypal through this link. If you prefer to pay by check, please email Caryn for details.

About the Presenters

Marianela Medrano, Ph.D., was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and has lived in Connecticut since 1990. A poet and a writer of nonfiction and fiction. She is also a mindfulness practitioner and instructor. Her literary work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines in Latin America, Europe and the United States. She is the author of seven books of poetry, and a children’s book. Her TEDTALK at Ursuline College speaks about her work and research on the Taíno people. She is the founder of Palabra Training Center, where words are given as medicine, and runs the podcast "What a Word is Worth: Conversations on collective healing through creative means."

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate is the author of 24 books, including How Time Moves: New & Selected Poems; Miriam's Well, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body. Founder of Transformative Language Arts, she is a beloved writing workshop facilitator and writing coach. She offers weekly “Care Packages for a Creative Life” through her Patreon page. She makes her home in Kansas on tallgrass prairie and emerging woodlands (which she and her family have been restoring for decades) on unceded land from the Kansa and Shawnee, which is now part of a conservation easement. She also feels a sense of belonging to central Vermont from over 20 years of teaching at Goddard College.

Listening to the Land With New Hearing: Everyday Magic, Day 1061

Lying in bed this morning between layers of flannel with a purring kitty under the covers with me, I dreamed in and out of the call of a barred owl, seemingly on the other side of the window. Its call sounded different than the night time “who cooks for you?” call, more like a rooster cock-a-doodling up, then a cat purr-meowing down. Surely it was a hunting call, Ken said, and maybe the sudden absence of squirrels on the deck proved this.

I’m learning to listen to the land with new hearing. Since the eye cancer’s Rube Goldberg-esque antics of cancer leading to radiation in the face leading to extensive dental drilling leading to tinnitus, my hearing has been encased in a bubble of white noise. Sometimes, like lately as I recover from various insults to the sinuses (a cold, mold allergies), the hum-buzz-shush of sound is louder, and sometimes the volume is lowered.

But there’s always something, and I know tinnitus impacts so many of us and it’s not personal to me. Still, learning to hear in this new way is personal. It lets in sound at different volumes than in the past. Words people say are harder to grasp but background noise is amplified. I’m also more attuned to the sounds of the land: the chatter-scuffle-leaps of squirrels on the deck railing, the lift-up of starlings in the field, and the wind clanging what’s left of Cottonwood Mel’s leaves against branches.

I’m also listening to quiet, at least relative quiet (because the sound is never not there) more through my daily meditation when I give myself over to being in this cocoon of the noise of my brain (which is what tinnitus is — we lose some of what filters out that noise). In a strange way, it’s become a comforting sensation of being held in a gentle and constant rocking hush. Other times the pitch gets higher, and it’s just annoying, but I’m trying to befriend even that because it’s also reality.

Meanwhile, just as — to paraphrase e.e. cummings’ poem — the eyes of my eyes were opened in new ways, now the ears of my ears are opening. There’s a big world of wind and rain, cats and owls, and so much more to hear in this land. “Oh, the sounds of the earth are like music,” goes the beginning of one verse of Oklahoma’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” So why not tune in and listen to what this music of the earth is telling us?

“God’s Got You, Baby”: Everyday Magic, Day 976

The lovely view from the porch where I’m spending most of my waking time.

That’s what Cynthia said as she led me back to the surgery prep room when I told her I was scared. “And don’t you worry because God made women stronger so we can get through anything.” Cynthia works for St. Luke’s hospital in Kansas City, and although I don’t know her official capacity, she wears a bright blue and white button that says “success coach.” Her words were cool water to me in the desert, pretty literally because I was parched from the no-water-before-surgery rule, and I was crazy scared.

Over the next few hours when I was prepped on Friday, she popped in the room every so often, teasing me about going to the restroom so often, an effective avoidant strategy for me and inconvenience for the medical personnel when I’m hooked up to IVs and monitors. But her words about how God’s got me helped me breathe just a bit more deeply.

Now I know all of us don’t resonate with the word “God,” and to some it’s more than off-putting, but I believe that something/someone/somehow has got us. Call it the higher self. Call it the life force. Call it the Great Spirit. Call it Jesus or Buddha or pure love or real life. For me, God works just fine, shorthand for “the force that through the flower drives the green fuse” (to quote Dylan Thomas) as well as for the unconditional, abiding love we’re capable of giving and receiving.

Since surgery, I’ve come to the oasis of Cynthia’s words to refresh myself even and especially when I’m in pain. When post-surgery head pain and nausea dissolve into hours of exhaustion and restlessness. When an excruciating migraine wakes me up at 3 p.m. and I need to wait until daybreak to take my meds for it because they have caffeine. When surprise nausea hits for a few minutes, and more often, I’m rushing to the bathroom for bouts of digestive hell. When the itchiness and drainage of this right eye drive me crazy. When the fatigue and confusion of my left eye, surely mourning the loss of her partner for these five days, disorients me. When, which means most of the time, my right eye burns. When there’s little I can do but color and listen to birdsong.

But then there is birdsong, color, and all the ways God’s got me. When my close friends and mother’s voice on the voices tell me I’m still me in this good life. When Judy and Ken carefully rescue a green caterpillar caught against the screen porch screen so it can go on to transform into whatever butterfly it is next. When I listen to Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” or anything by Mary Chapin Carpenter on itunes. When Kelley shows up with soup that’s just what I need. When Ken and I laugh together at a scene in Northern Exposure for the hour each day I can watch something (I get too eye-tired after that). When I blessedly fall asleep on the porch to the tune of hummingbird buzz and the unseen birds on the left chatting up the unseen birds on the right. Whenever I look at the gorgeous bouquet of flowers my sister-in-law Karen and my nieces sent. There’s also texts full of heart emojis, our daughter’s voice on the phone, our son coming here each evening to patiently take our dog, a little freaked out that he can’t be near me, to my in-law’s home for the night, and mostly, there’s Ken, sick with some crazy virus himself but making me tea, sitting outside with me to take in the walls of green life, and talking with me when I otherwise would be talking myself up and down walls.

I can only hope others going through challenges, particularly those of you who are chronically ill in ways that keep unfolding in unpredictable or same-old-same-old ways, have such support holding you. At the least and the most, I wish that someone’s got you too (as in “gets” who you are and holds you), which makes me think of the ending of this Rainer Maria-Rilke poem (translated by Stephen Mitchell), “Autumn”:

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

 

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Wednesday, there’s both relief and another big passage ahead: the same surgery, but this time to remove the gold heart (as I’m thinking of it) full of radioactive seeds. I don’t know if I’ll see Cynthia, but I’ll wrap her words around me like a woven shawl of blues, greens, prayers, and wishes. As with everything, I don’t know what the aftermath of that surgery will be like, but I’m grateful to know God’s got me.

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Putting the New Poetry Book to Bed: Everyday Magic, Day 905

It’s called “putting the book to bed” when you turn in your final version of a whole bunch of pages about to be published as a real, live book. Ten minutes ago, I put Following the Curve, my next book of poetry, to bed, tucking it into an email, covering it with kisses, and wishing it well. It was a long time coming as all books, and especially poetry books are. That’s because I find that poetry can be almost infinitely revised — there are thousands of ways to break a line, add or subtract punctuation, change a word, or kill a darling (editing out a beloved line because it’s not needed).

To celebrate, I write this blog post, and I share the ending poem from this new collection:

Your Body is a Conversation With the World

What are you waiting for? From the first air

in the first room, while a winter radiator breathed

enough warmth for your your mother,

the world was chatting you up.

You gasped, you cried, you waved buy cialis canada yahoo answers your tiny hands

for the ocean you left, and the story laughed itself silly

in each cell until it multiplied into millions more

marching to or denying the heart’s measured drum.

Your body watches the moth on the other side

of the screen, drinks the water from the blue glass,

and jumps in its sleep, so much dialogue in this

continuing tender reckoning of bare foot on gravel,

whippoorwill telling the ears of nightfall.

You’re always in conversation about how you’re not

a separate animal but a talisman of your own place

alongside the freeway and the prairie,

each step another word, each shrug another question

for the lightning bug caught on the ceiling,

the cat leaping from refrigerator to your shoulder,

the wind or its absence evident in the still grasses.

The answers may knock you over or have nothing to do

with the question you’re pacing across the day.

Time tells its stories through your body,

so yoked to this love that it cannot stop singing.

We're All Such Delicate Creatures, But At Least We're In Good Company: Everyday Magic, Day 895

Everyone I know has something hard to live or live with: the everyday heartbreak of going on when a greatly beloved is dead or gone, a scattering of demeaning jobs or not-so-sweet sweethearts, tunnels of depression or roller coasters of anxiety, or chronic illness or cumbersome disabilities. Maybe we’re hard-wired to have an Achilles heel, some weak spot named for Achilles of ancient Greek mythology whose mother, Thetis, dipped him into the Styx river to make him immortal. To keep hold of him, she held him by one heel, which became his vulnerable part.

My Achilles heel is chronic illness, mostly of the sinus-infection-whatever-mystery-virus-is-this-fresh-hell variety. While I’ve struggled since childhood with getting sick more than the average bear, ever since I went through cancer and chemotherapy, this vulnerability has gotten more airtime. I won’t bore you with the long list of conventional, alternative, cutting-edge and/or traditional treatments I’ve sought, and I’m certainly not asking for advice — I have what feels like a good and long-term treatment plan in place now that may lessen the and-she’s-down-again days, and I’m honored to be working with a great integrative physician. But there are days, like this one, when I’m limping around on my Achilles heel.

One problem with vulnerabilities, especially the chronic ones, is that it’s hard to get beyond self-blame, or at least, it’s hard for me. When I get sick, my first impulse is to scan my days for what I did wrong and to feel like I’m failing at life. But this is just the my thinking and thoughts, not reality. What is reality? I’m hardly ever completely sure, which I believe is kind of the essence of intersecting with reality, but I do know that life is far more mysterious than we can fathom. We don’t know what will happen, and by extension, what this symptom or that one truly means all the time. We don’t even know all the details of our life lessons, except that sometimes those lessons are relentless intensives. While I believe very much in the power of healing, and siren song of health, I also know it’s beyond my control to have the ultimate power to fix what ails me, or the world.

Just like I practice the cello, I can keep practicing health like all of us can keep practicing ways to live with our vulnerabilities. Some days, I’ll make a sweet note, and some days, it’ll sound like shit. I can keep aiming toward ideal wholeness, but I have to remember that I’m already whole because being being a little bit broken in some way or another (aka Leonard Cohen’s “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in) is what it means to be a whole human.

One of my favorite songs, “That’s What Makes You Strong” by Jessie Winchester, tells us how what makes us weak, what makes us need someone, is what makes us strong. “That’s what moves our souls, and that’s what makes us sing,” the song goes, and I love this version by my friend Kelley Hunt. We are moving mosaics composed of all the pieces, edgy or smooth.

What helps us grow courage and compassion is the everyday Achilles heels of our lives, reminding us that, yes, we are designed by nature to be delicate creatures, and yes, we are also called to work, play and live with the materials life gives us. There never was a river of immortality, just us humans, sharing our stories of falling down and rising down, and in the sharing, remembering that we’re never alone.