ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spinning like Rumi: Confessions from a Writing Coach about an Unsettled Life

When our bodies and minds are in motion, writing can be difficult

And I've been in motion the entire spring, summer, and fall -- to galleries and tea houses in Santa Fe, to the Heard Museum and Gila River in Phoenix, to conference centers and family gatherings in Oklahoma, to the piers and missions and merry-go-rounds of Santa Barbara where I celebrated my sister's 60th birthday, to the mountains of Wyoming and the high sagebrush country of Nevada, to the forests and grasslands of South Dakota's Black Hills.  

Then to the canyons of Utah, then to the dust bowl panhandle of Oklahoma, then flying over the river I'd just floated to land among the palm trees of San Diego.  

When this fall arrived, I was exhausted and yearned to sink my energy back into the roots of home.

But it was not the traveling that exhausted me.  It was not having time to absorb and ingest the experiences, as if I were a vessel filled with swirling sensations that had never had time to settle to the bottom of the glass.  I had written barely a word in months of traveling and teaching.

The famous 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, whose son founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, wrote thousands of poems.  Many of them he created while dancing.  A scribe followed on his spinning heels and transcribed them onto parchment.


Imagine!  A personal scribe to follow us wherever we go, writing down our every uttered thought, capturing our epiphanies the moment they occur like nets flung over a flutter of butterflies whose wings have just unfurled.  

What luxury!  To commit our body and mind to each experience with such devotion of the senses that we stay entirely engaged in the moment without feeling the need to stop, interpret, or filter the experience through the sieve of intellect.  To stay totally conscious to the experience!

But how then do we capture the experience for posterity's sake?  How do we journal after the experience and still capture the immediacy of the moment, rather than a reflection on the moment?  How can we make our writing as adventurous and immediate as our travels?

"Adventure is what you see out there in the landscape," says Craig Childs, an author who is always on the move.  "It's you, out there in the world."  He also says, "I'm not really a purpose-driven traveler.  I just want to get into the middle of it."

This Oklahoma college saddle bronc rider was in and out of the middle of "it" so quickly, he hardly had time to remember being in the saddle.  But I'll bet he relived every moment of it when he rinsed the arena dirt from his mouth, and for the next 48 hours as his aching bones and sore muscles recalled the experience at a cellular level.  

Writing is an odd duck.  It is conceived through experience yet born of contemplation.  It is often about something that has already happened, yet written with the intent to fool the reader into believing that it is happening right now.  Good writing is moving what our cells know onto the page so the readers can know it too.

The few notes I did jot down these last few months are scattered about in three different journals, and in various files on my computer.  They are as disorganized as the flurry of memories that have yet to settle down in the rampant waters of my mind.  

"We are literally carrying stories within us," author and professor John Calderazzo tells his writing students at Colorado State University.  And of course, we are.  Like the land carries the rivers.  

The Gila River (pictured) used to naturally flow through the area that is now Phoenix and was, in some places, 5-6 miles wide.  It was the lifeblood of the Pima and Maricopa tribes.  In the late 1800s it was damned, causing devastating starvation.  But the stories of the people did not die, and 118 years later the Gila River Indian Community won back their rights to the river and the ecosystem of the river is once again thriving.  

If I'm lucky, when I settle down and start browsing through my notes, I'll rediscover the flow of energy that can turn my travels into stories.  It is this flow, this forward movement of energy, that I must recreate if my memories are to become more than nostalgia.  And it will be through the senses that I bring these memories to life -- through remembering each scent and sight, each touch and taste and sound -- like merry-go-round music with notes that rise and fall in unison with the prancing horses and bubbling laughter of a sister who has ridden beside me all my life.