Ann Klotz on The Writing Life

Sometimes, you meet a person who just opens your heart and soul. This past October, I met writer Ann Klotz at a Kate Hopper retreat. Ann and I had known one another online for a while, but this was our first in-person meeting.

Everything Ann wrote at that October retreat was a heart song. Ann seems to possess an almost natural ability to spin words into gold. Not only a writer, Ann also is the Headmistress of Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ann writes in her latest essay, “Writing is Everything,” about the struggles she has with finding writing time. I relate to everything in this essay at a deep soul level. Yet it seems that Ann, when she does write, has no trouble dropping right into the kind of soul writing I wrote about a few blog posts back, after I returned from the October Kate Retreat.

These days, whenever I see that Ann has published a new essay, I drop everything and read it, right away. I know it will move me, I know it will be important in a way that elevates the everydayness of life into a heart-gripping tale of my own life. Ann has an uncanny knack at tapping into the universal. If you too are trying for a writing life, I hope you too drop everything and read Ann’s latest essay up on Brevity today.

via Writing is Everything

I’ve Been Holding Back

I’m always holding back. I hold back my writing, because maybe I’ll use it somewhere else someday. Maybe there will be a better time or place to put my words out into the world.

I hold back feelings of hope in a futile attempt to tamp down the potential for disappointment.

I hold back feeling joy, in an effort to stave off feeling sadness.

I hold back love. I’m not sure why I hold back love. I sense it has something to do with trying to keep chaos at bay. For me, love and chaos were once intimately linked. At the very least, I know I hold back love when my world is at its most chaotic. For example, whenever my youngest son’s health issues creep into the forefront of our lives, as they have this fall, I fold deeper into myself. My capacity to show love to those in my life declines. My life becomes singularly focused on trying to control the uncontrollable: my son’s health.

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Early morning ramble at the retreat.

I attended Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words writing retreat in northern Wisconsin two weeks ago. It was my fourth time attending this retreat and I always come away with new insight and new words. I’m still shaping some of the essays I started at that retreat and I’m mulling over the direction I received from Kate, other attendees, and my inner guidance: Overhaul your entire manuscript. Begin again. Rewrite it a fourth time. This time, actually retype the whole thing. I’m kind of resisting the direction right now. I know this because I started applying for editorial jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to be an editor again, rather than a writer, I ask myself. I ignore the writing contract that I made with myself last May, when I graduated with my MFA, when I agreed to let my “writing self” have a year before my “get-shit-done self” stepped in and told writing self to get a real job.

Even in my resistance, I’m still thinking about the rewrite and how it will be done, how the manuscript will be shaped so differently this time around. I’m reading about five other memoirs right now (not unusual–I live my life juggling numerous books). Reading to observe structure, more than to absorb content. That said, I’m sucking the marrow out of Claire Dederer’s Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses. I’ve come late to the Poser party, but am so glad I came.

Another bit of wisdom I brought back with me from Wisconsin is an idea that another writer shared. This writer shares a first name with me, so it’s only natural that her wisdom would resonate deep within. She told us she was trying to move from “ego writing” to “soul writing.” She described the difference. Ego writing resists going deep and, instead, slips safely along the surface. Soul writing, in contrast, dares to reveal the shadow side, dares to become all it can be. In other words, soul writing doesn’t hold back.

It feels scary to me, but I am going to watch for the places where I am holding back. In those places, once observed, I will ask myself if I can give a little more. I will take small steps until it no longer seems so scary to give myself to my writing, my loves, my life.

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The fog always lifts, eventually.

Like birds do, I want to enter each day with a feeling of abundance and generosity. I’m tired of living small; I’m tired of holding back.

 

 

Completing my MFA; Entering the Void

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Photo credit: Heyli Howard (photo taken at E’s high school graduation).

Normally, by this point in the school week, I would have long since written the requisite blog post for my Immersion in Publishing class. This week, however, I’ve been dragging my heels. When I paused to assess the reason for this uncharacteristic procrastination, I realized it was because I was putting off an ending.

With this post, I am completing my last assignment for this class, which is the last class of my MFA program. The moment I post this on my blog (and in Canvas, the online platform utilized by Bay Path), I will essentially be done with my MFA (aside from a few final responses to classmates and one last class this coming Thursday). As much as I’ve looked forward to (even counted down the weeks) to the ending of my MFA program, now that it is upon me, I feel myself hitting the brakes. Why is that?

It’s been a good week to contemplate the nature of endings. My son, Ethan, just completed his last college class on Friday; he’ll be graduating with a BFA in painting and drawing next weekend. For me, that is an ending to celebrate. Back in 2007, when my ex-husband lost everything (thankfully we were already divorced five years at the time and so my finances were no longer tied to his—with the exception of losing child support payments for a time), I had no idea how I’d manage to pay for our two kids’ college educations (although still four and six years ahead). It had always been my goal (was once my ex’s goal too) to do this for Han and E.

In the end, everything worked out. We lived frugally and (thanks to a promotion at work) I saved lots of money in CDs when interest rates were still high. Remarrying helped free up my savings towards Han and E’s college. Plus, my ex was finally able to help out with E’s college. Now, I’ve (*we’ve) done it. I’ve put Han and E. through college. Ethan—bless his heart—knew this distinct goal of mine and he congratulated me (Yes, he congratulated me!) on the day he completed college. So, I’ve done what I set out to do, a commitment made when my ex and I divorced. I’ve completed the raising of those two kids (which is not to say that Han doesn’t still call me every weekend, seeking advice). The rest is up to them.

It’s interesting how easily I celebrate the end of my children’s college years, but my own grad school completion, not so much. I think this is because my own ending creates a void. It’s the void of “what’s next?” especially when you’re a creative and the path is not obvious (as it might be to someone graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering). I see Ethan entering the void as well; he spent yesterday updating his artist web site. Anticipating the void, Kate Whouley, the instructor of my two publishing classes, asked us to draft and submit a signed writer’s contract. My professors have done their part. The rest is up to me.

The void created in the absence of the MFA program is mine to fill. To fill the void, I will keep writing.

The truest thing I’ve learned over the past three years of this MFA work is that I am a writer. Submitting pieces and receiving rejections is a part of the game. Having an essay or poem rejected is an ending (of the hope you had). It creates a void. To fill that void, I’ve learned to do one of three things: revise the piece (again), put it aside to mature (and then revise), or submit it immediately to another publication. This game is always half terror, half hope. But the act of writing (into the void) is what I love and that is why I’ll keep writing.

In honor of this ending, I compiled a list of my top ten hardest endings (in no particular order):

  1. 1999: A soulful friendship lost
  2. 1979: My black tuxedo kitten—Uncle Beethoven—run over by a car
  3. 1986: End of gymnastics career with back injury sustained during a vault
  4. 2016: A soulful friendship lost
  5. 2009: Putting my daughter Hannah on a plane, heading alone to Japan, effectively ending her childhood
  6. 2005: A soulful friendship lost
  7. 1988: The summer before college, when I was too entrenched in a binge eating disorder to feel (or understand) my high school losses
  8. 2014: My mom selling “our share” in the family cabin that my grandfather built and my last visit as an “owner”
  9. 2002: The end of my parent’s marriage, because it came the same year as my own divorce and their ability to parent me (as an adult child) came to an end exactly when I was in need of extra support
  10. 1984: The year my brother Scott headed to California on his red Kawasaki motorcycle, my brother Rob moved to the Twin Cities, and my brother Chris returned to college, leaving me home alone to referee my parents’ chaotic marriage

Not all endings are necessarily negative. And even with the “bad” ones above, I can now see what eventually came in to fill the void (except when Uncle Beethoven died). To end on a positive note, here are my top five endings (in no particular order):

  1. 2002: End of my marriage
  2. 2009: Remarriage ends my years of being single
  3. 2017: Second child of my first marriage completes college and I achieve one of my top five lifetime goals by seeing my oldest two kids through college
  4. 2010: Han home from Japan (end of Rotary year)
  5. 1998: End of short career practicing law

And now, I enter the void; I enter a time of waiting for new structures and experiences to add shape to my writing life.

*My husband, my ex, my ex’s spouse, and me

More Writer Angst: Writing the Foxtail Farm Winter CSA Profile

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Prior to my interview with Paul and Chris Burkhouse, owners of Foxtail Farm Winter CSA, I volunteered on their farm for a day, packing boxes. To pack these boxes, we formed a conveyer line of people, adding vegetables in a precise order. I was at the head of the line; my job was to insert one squash and one pumpkin–the heaviest offerings of the day. It was like lifting weights, only with 35o repetitions instead of three. I found myself wondering if it was an initiation of sorts–give the new girl the heaviest load.

Finally, when I could no longer reach the squash on the highest shelves, due to my five foot two stature, I swapped a Foxtail intern for potato duty, a decidedly more appealing job. The potatoes still wore dirt of the fields just outside the barn door. They smelled of earth, they whispered of rootedness. At the end of the day, my back was aching and beneath my fingernails, soil was wedged so tightly, it would take three or fourth baths to dislodge it. I was actually more than okay with this; I could smell the St. Croix River Valley on my fingers for a week. It reminded me of how I’d felt renewed by my day at the farm. I realized, I’d been living too long disconnected from the soil.

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Now I know: water is life and soil is alive. Connection both will keep a soul grounded.

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A week and one day later, I sat down with Paul and Chris for our interview, in preparation for the profile I’d be writing on them as a part of my St. Croix Master Watershed Steward program. The three of us engaged in a lively discussion. I relished spending time with the philosophical and intelligent Paul and Chris (and their two dogs). I loved walking the fields of kale, covered in snow and eating spinach picked fresh from the ground of a hoop house. At the end of the interview, all seemed as idyllic as the farm upon which we stood. But then, Paul asked to review the piece before it published. I reluctantly agreed.

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Ten days later, when I had the piece written and polished, I sent it off to Paul and Chris–more than a little nervous about having them review it. A day went by, then two, then three and then a week. At the eight day point, I left both a voicemail and email, asking them to confirm receipt of the piece. I didn’t hear from them that day. By that evening, I was beside myself with fear, depression, and self-loathing. This was worse then any emotion I’d experienced after having one of my essays or poems rejected by a publication. I’d written about two people’s lives and, I assumed, they hated it. They disliked it so much that they weren’t even going to respond to me. I emailed my fantastically patient editor, Greg Seitz, over at St. Croix 360. I told him I was going to have to regroup, write a different story. I also told him I was going to learn to write fiction so that I no longer had to deal with real people.

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I woke up that night at 1 am. I was a hot mess of thoughts, thoughts that moved as swiftly as thunderheads on the loose. I am terrible writer, not even my profile subjects like my writing. In fact, they hated it. I can’t write about real people. Even my daughter cried when she read the first few paragraphs of the piece I’d written about her for Angels Flight Literary West. And Greg. He must think I am completely unhinged. I shouldn’t have disclosed all my angst to him. I am a fraud, a failure. I need to find a job that has nothing to do with writing. They hate me. Everyone hates me. Why did I think I could do this watershed thing, anyway? And on and on it went.

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At 6 am, when I opened up my email, I had a note from Chris Burkhouse apologizing to me. She said they’d never received the preview draft a week earlier and they’d both been really sick with horrible colds, but could I please send it to them now and they’d review it as quickly as possible. What? Maybe they don’t hate me after all. Something akin to relief washed through me. Yet, this meant they still hadn’t reviewed it. They might still come to hate me.

I emailed Greg again to tell him of the latest development. I told him I’d felt like a girl thinking she’d been jilted by her prom date, only to discover he’d just had a flat tire. I hit send. Fantastic Heidi; again too much information to the editor. Now he knows you are coming unhinged.

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A day later, I received the draft back from Chris with some perfectly reasonable edits that helped clarify farming terms and practices that I wasn’t well voiced in. It took me all of five minutes to make the changes. I sent it off to Greg and it published even sooner than I’d expected. And I actually like the piece. I really like it. You can read the full piece here; I also took all of the photos for this piece and will publish some of the extras here–so you can see just how beautiful the Wisconsin countryside can be in the fading December light.

Perhaps I won’t give up nonfiction writing after all; at least not yet. And, perhaps, I might take up photography. Sometimes you just have to wait. Not every answer or every solution comes when you think it should. Oh, to be still and know that all will be well, in time.