Slow

Monday morning. Here we go! Clean slate! Another week, another chance to start strong! Exercise! Writing! I will make meaningful strides in the revisions! I will get this book done!

Good intentions are slippery suckers; I know/fear that how this morning goes will set the tone for the rest of the week. So I pick a podcast to listen to as I sit on my yoga mat – multitasking, baby! — something to motivate me, light a fire.

I need inspiration. I have been castigating myself for how long I am taking to revise my work in progress. Draft 6 already, with more drafts needed. I suffer from a case of the “shoulds” – I should be done with it already. My comparing brain lights upon every author who writes faster. I have begun to say aloud that maybe it will never see the light of day. I wonder if I should prepare my heart for an “ambiguous loss,” like this author whose novel has not been bought and is wondering if it is over.

Is ever the right time to call “time of death” on an unrealized dream? Or do some dreams need to sit dormant, put away for safekeeping, until your unconscious directs you to open them again?

I pick a TEDTalk podcast called Things that Take Time. The host, Manoush Zomorodi, draws me in:

“We live in an era of instant gratification, a culture that prizes efficiency over patience, but some things, to reach their full potential, they simply cannot be rushed.”

Okaaaay. Go on…

“Optimizing or speeding them up is impossible….A more deliberate pace can be productive, if we revel in it.”

We hear from a zoologist who is over the moon about the evolutionary brilliance of the sloth, the only animal that “comes with a built-in philosophy.” We hear from a sleep scientist that we cannot rush sleep; Mother Nature has evolved our bodies to need what it needs. We hear from an architect investigating ancient, indigenous technologies, like rain forest “bridges” made from trees that were planted fifty years earlier for that eventual purpose.

I sooo want to cross the finish line with this book. I feel antsy, judgmental of my progress, and ready for a sense of completion.

But as much as I want to complete it, I want it to become what it is supposed to be. I may not even know yet what that is. So I am listening to it. I am showing up and straining to hear. I am giving it the time it takes. I will try like hell to revel in its deliberate pace.

I come back to the Mary Oliver poem that always helps me slow my breath, “Don’t Worry.”

Things take the time they take. Don’t
worry.
How many roads did Saint Augustine follow
before he became Saint Augustine?

Felicity

Authenticity

Faces gathered in my computer screen from writing rooms across the world. An “accountability check-in” — poets, memoirists, academics, novelists, and essayists, all sharing their day’s writing goals (along with the local weather report during this latest polar vortex) before getting to work.

One writer, after describing her distant view of snow gathering on the Cascade Mountains, explained how her previous day’s work had pleased her; she had “found her way into the magic,” a road not so well marked, and her goal for that day was to find it again.

All heads bobbed up and down in our squares. I have known the absence of that magic. Last summer I felt stymied in my draft memoir. My paragraphs sounded like blah blah blah bullet points. I had forgotten how to sound like myself. Would I find my way again?

Enter our cross-country RV odyssey, a chance to get some distance from the writing project by focusing on getting my family virus-free across the Rockies in a 27-foot house. I did not look at my manuscript once. Instead, I took photos and wrote blog posts, unearthing the seemingly miss-able moments that together add up to life. The new settings after months of sameness, the lack of pressure, and my self-imposed daily deadlines, unexpectedly led me back to the voice I had been missing. Hello there, me! Long time, no see. It was such a relief to find that road again.

There’s a connection between finding that authentic voice in one’s writing and in one’s being. Both can get hidden under obligations and distractions, lost behind the wreckage of mistakes and missed turns.

“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity,” said Coco Chanel. Maybe that explains why the word “authenticity” sizzled in my ears during that writing group check-in. The past year has held some of the hardest times of my life. I have needed to know more than ever who I am, and where I stand. For people like me, accustomed to pleasing, compromising, and getting along, authenticity means finding the terra firma from which you do not waver. Owning your truth. Recognizing and resisting the swirling external forces that try to sway or dissuade you. Holding fast to your authenticity — i.e. reality, honesty, faithfulness, trustworthiness, truth — no matter how it threatens those who hold fast to a misguided mirage.

It takes practice, and thankfully practice comes in many forms. Meditation, which starts with putting your feet on the ground to feel a connection to the earth. Or yoga. My teacher, Nicole, watches us through zoom and cues us to take the position of Warrior I and gently reminds us, “your back foot will want to pull away. Press down, and feel the mat press against your whole foot, grounding so you can reach your arms strong and high.”

Authenticity breeds authenticity. Finding it in myself will not guarantee its appearance in my writing, but it helps me recognize when it appears, and when something lesser is trying to butt in. And I know where to look for help: in breaks from the ordinary, in nature, in reading the voices of my favorite writers who sound only like themselves — Anne Lamott, say, or Aimee Bender. Like these authors do for my writing, we can do for each other in living: “When you show up authentic, you create the space for others to do the same.” (Anonymous)

May you honor your authenticity, and surround yourself with others — at a safe distance, virtually, or on the page — who bring it out in you.

__

P.S. Book recommendation: The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley

I learn more about human nature from a good novel than almost any self-help tome, and in searching for a book on authenticity, I came across a New York Times bestselling novel I can’t wait to read: The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley. What happens when six strangers decide to tell their truths in anonymous journal entries written in a single green notebook? Something that looks like happiness. It is a “feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits” (Washington Post), and a “warm, charming tale about the rewards of revealing oneself, warts and all” (People). Warmth, charm, and lifted spirits sounds right to me.

(I link to Bookshop.org, which supports indie booksellers and gives readers a discount, but you can also find this title wherever books are sold. wink wink.)

Sing.

My husband sits down at the piano, nothing grand, his phone propped on the stand in front of him open to the app with chords to any song. Dinner has been cooked, consumed, cleaned. There are three of us left at home after a crowded winter break, hovering in a Sunday night feeling, the top of the rollercoaster before the newest week, and our hands in the air, or gripping the rails, ready to scream.

“This song is all about your mama,” he says to the kiddo, and plays a song I once sang at a karaoke place in Catalina, years ago when the whole family had fun together.

“Is it okay if I play now?” He asks me, not wanting to disturb my writing effort.

“Yes.” It is essential that you play it now, I think.

I rise from my seat, go to the piano bench, and straining for notes, we sing.

Sing, to float away from the hurts of the day.

Sing, to revive the chambers of heart and lungs.

Sing, to remember the last time you laughed with your home crowd in a packed restaurant.

Sing, to channel your grandmother’s favorite love song, and your grandfather’s favorite lullaby.

Sing to make yourself cry, and sing to make your body get up and dance.

Sing to expand your lungs, and to release the pain on your breath.

Sing I don’t want to miss a single thing you do tonight.

Sing Hallelujah. Exult.

Save One Life, Save the World?

The world needs — has always needed — everyday heroes, every kind act and impulse each of us can offer.

So I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion calledSave One Life, Save the World? on October 23, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. as part of Palisades Reads, a new annual community literary event whose mission is to foster connection, spark conversation, and celebrate books for their ability to build empathy. The panel relates to the themes in my novel, Shelter Us (Indiebound, Amazon, library), the story of a grieving mother who finds solace helping a young homeless mother regain her stability. In the words of one reviewer, the novel asks readers to consider, “How far would you go to help a stranger in need?” 

What compels ordinary people to step outside their comfort zone to help others? The panelists are not superheroes, but regular folks whose hearts led them to take steps, then more steps, leading to the founding of agencies that help homeless youth, that innovate how to connect homeless individuals to services, and that provide counsel and community to grieving families.

These everyday heroes are living proof of Alicia Keys‘ words: “What people often assume is that in order to make change a reality, you have to have some kind of superhuman quality and power inside of you. You don’t have to be a politician, or a scholar or a singer or a celebrity to recognize a problem and work towards fixing it by empowering others around you to take up the fight. You have to be you and that makes it all the more valiant.

To honor everyday heroes, in a countdown to the panel I will be sharing stories about people who are making the world better with small and large acts of kindness. I hope their stories will send ripples of inspiration, to tell anyone who wonders if they can make a difference: Yes, you can. And yes, you must, for no one else can bring forth your unique gifts. It’s all hands on deck.

To start, today I’m sharing this op-ed and this AirTalk interview with author/actress Annabelle Gurwitch, in which she describes her experience welcoming a homeless couple into her home through a pilot project with Safe Place for Youth (one of the participants in the Palisades Reads panel Oct 23, 6:30 p.m.) 

Let’s send ripples of kindness out into the world. Please share this post, and leave a comment about who inspires you, or how you help others. Our world need every single small act of big-heartedness it can get.

And please join me if you can for an inspiring, motivating, heart-lifting evening:

“Save One Life, Save the World” Panel, October 23, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Pacific Palisades Branch Library, 861 Alma Real Drive, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

With love,

Laura

#saveonelifesavetheworld  #everydayheroes

#kindnessmatters

 

Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…

 

 

Writer’s Life: Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff Author Photo credit Mindy Schwartz Sorasky

Pam Jenoff is the author of ten novels, her latest — THE ORPHAN’S TALE — launched last month to much acclaim. I met Pam at the Jewish Book Conference in 2015, and she impressed me as warm, intelligent, funny, and humble. She is also a Penn Law grad and mother of young children. I’m pretty sure her motto (see below) has something to do with her prolific output. I’m pleased to introduce you to Pam Jenoff:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I’ve had occasion lately to think a lot about the inherent tension between being a writer and being a mom. As a mother, I want to always be present in the moment. But my writer side secretly wants to sneak off and be with my characters. Essentially it is about the precious commodity of time, and I think the answer is to be wholly present for whichever aspect of life I am spending time on at that moment.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have written in mountaintop retreats and castles. I have also written in my doctor’s office and in my car, and can tell you whether the coffee shops within a five mile radius of my house open at 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, because I’m there with my nose pressed against the glass wanting to get inside and write. Usually my office is my favorite place because I just love to be in my daily routine, doing my thing. I also do very well writing in hotels on book tour. But you can’t be too fussy about it.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Every Damn Day. It’s all about moving the manuscript forward, even an inch at a time.

Who inspires you?

So many people! Great writers and great athletes. My kids. Right now, my mom, who has waged an epic health battle this year and is a total warrior for our family.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

My big three causes have always been hunger, homelessness and at-risk youth. Right now, I’m passionate about book fair scholarships – making sure that children who cannot afford a book at a school book fair are able to choose one, instead of watching others get a book while they do without. My kids go to a very diverse public school and I’m really focused on including students from low-income families in all aspects of school life.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I am reading constantly. There are so many good books coming out this year: thrillers from Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf, historical fiction from Janet Benton and Jillian Cantor, summer novels by Jamie Brenner and Jane Green, [read her Writer’s Life interview here – LND] just to name a few!

For book tour info, and to buy this book and her others, visit www.PamJenoff.com

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“A gripping story about the power of friendship to save and redeem even in the darkest of circumstances, The Orphan’s Tale sheds light on one of the most colorful and inspiring stories of heroism in Nazi Germany. This is a book not to be missed.”

 – Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife

Writer’s Life: Susie Orman Schnall

I chose today’s interviewee with Mother’s Day in mind. Susie Orman Schnall, author of the novels On Grace and The Balance Project, is also the creator of an interview series also called The Balance Project to explore one of her deep curiosities: how do successful women in many fields balance the demands on them, especially work and motherhood? Below, you’ll read how she answers that question for herself. Meet Susie:

Susie Schnall

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Through parenting my three boys, I’ve learned that everything can change in an instant, the journey is often more important than the outcome, flexibility is everything, never take a “phase” too seriously — either positively or negatively — because it will most likely end, and a warm hug cures almost everything. All of those apply to writing. I’ve also learned through my almost 15 years of parenting, that I enjoy being a very hands-on mother and they enjoy having me present in their lives, which means I can’t treat writing as much as a full-time job as part of me would like.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

We have a small sitting room in the entry to our master bedroom that I’ve turned into an office. It’s my favorite part of my house because everything in it is mine, no boy detritus piles up in it as it does everywhere else in my house, and I feel I’ve accomplished so much there.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

I’ve always loved the quote, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (—Mary Oliver)

Who inspires you?

Women who are able to toss off the mantle of expectations society places upon them and live their lives authentically. And Lin-Manuel Miranda.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

This is a sore subject for me because I’m not actively involved in any charity at this time. Since I was young, I have always volunteered for non profits, and I’ve worked professionally for two, served on the board of one, etc. As part of my quest to be somewhat balanced and not load too much onto my plate, volunteering for an organization is one of the major things I don’t currently do right now. I give a little time here and there to my kids’ school, other committees, etc., and my husband and I donate money to various causes, but I don’t give time to the degree that makes me feel like me. I know that I will get back to it and I’ve accepted and embraced that. I also struggle with which organizations to support because there are so many worthwhile ones, I have a hard time saying no to any of them. But I especially connect with organizations that give children opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I’m reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She wrote it in 1955 but her wisdom and truths about being a woman resonate so deeply with me.


Susie Orman Schnall grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, she has worked for advertising agencies, non-profit organizations, Internet companies, and magazines doing marketing, communications, website creation, and writing. Susie’s writing has appeared in local and national publications, most notably in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest and Glamour, to name a few. Susie has written two award-winning novels. Her first, On Grace, is about rediscovering yourself as a woman after motherhood. Her second, The Balance Project, is about work-life balance and was inspired by an interview series she does with working women on her website. Susie lives in Purchase, NY, with her husband and their three boys. More information at susieschnall.com.

 

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schnall books

Writer’s Life: Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran

I’m pleased to introduce you to Meredith Maran, editor of the new collection, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature.  I tore through this book, which (like the best memoirs) creates a personal connection between reader and writers. If you want to know more about some of your favorite writers (including Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Kelly Corrigan…), get your hands on this gem. And now, get to know Meredith…

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer? 

The same energy that’s required when a kid is having a tantrum is required when my writer-mind is having a tantrum. Writing is a fine balance between experiencing your feelings and modulating and moderating them, so they can be turned into art. Raising kids is a similar process. You can have big emotions where your kids are concerned, but you can’t express them exactly as you feel them. You have to express them based on what’s good for your kids, not just good for your own need to vent.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

It’s very important to me where I write. As we speak, I’m outside in a garden. I built myself a writing studio and put up a hammock. I live in sunny, warm Los Angeles, and I’m outside most of the time while I’m writing. Its important to me that it’s peaceful and beautiful and also that I can’t see any chores that need doing while I’m writing.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Tell the truth. And hurt self and others as little as possible while doing it.

Who inspires you?

My first inspiration was the French memoirist Françoise Sagan. I read her memoir, Bonjour Tristesse, which means “Hello Sadness” when I was a young teenager. My parents had her book on their shelf. They told me not to read it so of course I did. It was inspiring to me because she was 17 or 18 when she wrote it, and it was so emotional and beautiful and I thought, that’s what I want to do.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Whenever an issue comes up, you can find me demonstrating for peace, and equality. Day to day, bringing diverse voices into the book marketplace is my cause. I review a lot of books for a lot of different publications, and believe me, I don’t do it for the money. I’m in a position to be able to promote the work of writers of color, women, lesbians, gay men, overlooked writers and small presses, and doing that is my mitzvah, as we Jews say.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just reviewed a memoir called The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky, a memoir of friendship and marriage. It’s stunning. I also reviewed the amazing novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I loved Jillian Lauren’s Everything You Ever Wanted and Claire Bidwell Smith’s The Rules of Inheritance. Thanks for asking!

Meredith Maran, a passionate reader and writer of memoirs, is the author of thirteen nonfiction books and the acclaimed 2012 novel, A Theory Of Small Earthquakes. Meredith also writes book reviews, essays, and features for newspapers and magazines including People, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, and More. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Meredith lives in a restored historic bungalow in Los Angeles, and on Twitter at @meredithmaran. Her next memoir, about starting over in Los Angeles, will be out from Blue Rider Press in 2017.

Why We Write About Ourselves on Amazon or IndieBound

MeredithMaran

Time traveling, to the present.

I know how to time travel. I do it all the time. Backwards: I see a spot on the sidewalk near my home and remember a morning more than a decade old, when I sat down, pregnant and exhausted, to wait out a three-year-old’s tantrum and cry my own tears. Forward: four more years until my firstborn goes to college.

Then what you want to do is close ranks.

You want to hold your growing children close, and you want to do more than freeze time, you want to push time backwards, squish them back to being almost 4 and 7, and not almost 11 and 14, and yourself not 46. 46! You want to hear only their giggles, not their fights. You want to hold the best moments, the photo of them jumping from bed to bed, the older son catching the younger, airborne and naked and laughing. You want to thread yourselves together, beads on a string — mother-father-son-son, the four of you only, connected and always.

And then you want to do the right thing. You want to say to the mother of the girl who is alone, I will take care of her, of course I will. She can join us, she can break our circle, let the beads fall off the string, rearrange them. And so you do, and you grieve for what you think you’ve lost. And you marvel at the new design, different, but not lesser. And you try to hold the present.

Never a Dull Moment, With The Big Questions Kid

Have you ever told your children that it was good to be bored? Have you ever flailed trying to explain why, even to yourself?

Let me define boredom for my purposes: an absence of outside stimuli (e.g. XBox, Wii, FB, Instagram, television, the usual suspects), as well as an absence of creative ideas coming from within. Stasis. Quiet. Spaciousness.

I heard two super smart women sing the praises of boredom this week. Each relayed a story of a different psychological study.

At the Literary Women festival in Long Beach on Saturday, author Aimee Bender described a study in which one group of people were given an exceedingly boring task — copying phone numbers out of the phone book — and then right after were given plastic cups and told to do something creative with them. A control group of non-super-bored folks were given the same cups, same instruction. The bored-to-death folks ran away with the creative assignment, cutting out spirals and snowflakes and lord-knows-what-else with their plastic. The non-bored folks made an effort at some pyramid-thingy. The takeaway? Boredom led to pent up creativity bursting to be released.

The second study about boredom was relayed by Rabbi Amy Bernstein. People were asked to sit alone in a waiting room. There was nothing to do in the room. No one was allowed a phone, a book, a pencil and paper. Nothing but one’s body and mind. For fifteen minutes they would have to be alone with their thoughts. There was one activity in the waiting room: a button that, when pushed, gave off an electric shock. You won’t be surprised, will you, when I share that many folks preferred the pain of electric shock to being with their thoughts for fifteen minutes?

When I told my kids about this study, before I could finish, my 10-year-old son offered he gladly spin in circles for 15 minutes.

Spinning

It came as no surprise to me that this kid had no problem with the idea of fifteen minutes to himself. He lives for it. Yes, he gets addicted to screens like the rest of us. But he is a soul who needs quiet moments, too, room to hear his own thoughts. That’s when the cool stuff happens: the wide-eyed realizations and the biggest questions.

Early one morning, we ride our bikes to school. “What does it all mean?” he asks, navigating the sprinklers and bumps in the sidewalk. “I mean, we are just specks in the universe, Mom!”

We roll along, him in front, leading, and me trying to keep up.

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