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Prompt: “It takes guts to tremble.” —Andrea Gibson
Time: 10 minutes

It takes guts to put the pen to the paper. It takes guts to press send. It takes guts to show up. It takes guts to walk out the door in the early morning, on the edge of the day’s unfolding. It takes guts to sit with the hard feelings—to really feel them. Not brush them off, stuff them down, pack them away. It takes guts to set boundaries and ask for what you need. It takes guts to smile at a stranger. It takes guts to try something, to explore, to see where things go. It takes guts to focus. It takes guts to say “I don’t know.” It takes guts to keep trying, to not let obstacles become endpoints. It takes guts to be awesome. And to be yourself. And to grow into new aspects of yourself. It takes guts to keep on keeping on. And to admit you just need a nap. Or a hug. Or a dance party. It takes guts to light up the world with your fire. It takes guts.

Shout-outs to Shira E for this inspiring post and to Gabe Radeka for the vital question and tangled important woods metaphor!

Prompt: “Consider me / As one who loved poetry / And persimmons.” —Shiki
Time: 15 minutes

And summits. And scuffed-up boots close to falling apart. And holding onto a dear hermana’s hand for dear life while I cry. And the question, “What if nothing is wrong with you?”

And clementines, with their tiny sweetness and easy rinds. And that moment my heart swells. And the contours of my inner life. And my future tiny house with its tiny wood stove and tiny reading nook and tiny tub. And blankets.

And my body, surprisingly. And the fire, in people and words and life and my skin. And music made with small blue keyboards and ukuleles and electronic things I don’t know the name of.

And when I’m in it, whatever it is. And when you—or you, or you, or you—are there with me.

And a stranger offering me her table at a crowded coffee shop. And sitting there with her in shared concentrated silence for 10 minutes before she departs and I thank her, wishing I had introduced myself.

And when I know exactly what I want. And your smile. And the spring wildflower garden on my walk to the bus. And the bus. And my shoulders. And the wine stain on my Book Mill bag from a music, art, and wine night. And the big, comfy couch.

And peering into the clearing from the woods, from the important tangle, unsure of emerging. And that deep breath.

TinyHomes.com

TinyHomes.com

Happy 2014 to all you folks reading this! One of the things that has me excited about the year ahead is, of course, tiny houses and all related phenomena. So much good stuff going on in the midst of planning for my summer 2015 build — from helping organize the Greater Boston Tiny House Enthusiasts meetups  (you can find us on Facebook, too) to connecting with other tiny housers like the amazing Vera Struck. I’ve hit a $5,000 milestone in my tiny house savings, and my parents just bought a house with some land upon which I can locate my build site!

One of my favorite new things related to tiny houses is TinyHomes.com, a totally awesome new website started by Lina Menard and Kenny Bavoso. It’s a treasure trove of tiny house community — you can connect with other folks in the tiny house movement, peruse tiny house musings, and feast your eyes on some tiny house inspiration. I may be biased in my excitement, since I’m going to be a monthly blog post contributor, but it’s already shaping up to be an awesome virtual community and resource.

If you’re interested in what I have to say about tiny houses over at TinyHomes.com, check it out on the 14th day of each month! (And be sure to check it out on all the other days, too, for tidbits from folks much wiser in the ways of tiny houses than me!) My first post was a playful list of how to build a tiny house, and I just finished a post for January entitled “Can’t Have It All.”

What would you be interested in reading about over at TinyHomes.com? (And here, for that matter, where I’d like to post more regularly in the coming year.)

Prompt: Weather.
Time: 10 minutes.

A snowstorm. In Cotuit. We lost power for days. No electric heat. Only fire, fueled by the dismantled coffee table.

A thunderstorm. In Lenox. We sat in the window seat, watched the lightning, faces rapt, and listened to the rain.

A rain shower. In Clinton. We jumped in the puddles, smiling our we-have-all-the-time-in-the-world smiles.

A heat wave. In Arizona. We drove and drove and drove, and our boombox melted, and we smiled.

A cold snap. In Lenox. We cooked chicken soup and sat on the brown couch and cozied in.

A blue sky. We lounged in a cemetery on my birthday and read aloud.

Be a weatherperson.

 

I keep in touch with my grandparents mostly through writing letters, something I eminently enjoy and feel has fallen too much to the wayside in modern society’s hustle and bustle of a harried existence. In his latest letter—written in the most beautiful and meticulous penmanship that is his hallmark—my grandpa wrote a paragraph that was exactly what I needed to read:

Detail from Grandpa's painting

Detail from one of my
grandpa’s paintings

Glad to hear that you are finding time for personal writing. Keep it up—remember you have something to say to all of us and we need to hear. We write, we paint for different reasons at different times. Most of my painting is illustration, no big story, but I like boats and I want to paint them. Sometimes I try to tell a story—put some meaning into the picture. Sometimes I almost succeed.

That’s from Bill Atcheson, painter and my grandpa. I feel like there’s so much I want to tease out of this paragraph—about the importance of expression, about the ways that the things that are vital to us change but remain vital, about the need to try despite obstacles and challenges—but for right now, I am just going to dwell in his words and let them speak for themselves. And I’m gonna go write!

I am sitting at the window counter of a coffee shop in the square. The stool I sit on is too tall for the counter—or the other way around—so that I bend my back to assume my regular writing posture. I’m auditioning places to write regularly (need one close to home for weekends; my house is too distracting), and I realize that if I were to go with this choice, I’d need to forego this window view—of not much, of the street, of the commuter rail—for a seat at a small table. My would never survive otherwise.

I like this place. I am entranced a bit by the unbroken buzz of voices speaking a language I don’t understand. Albanian, I believe, based on the small flag that hangs behind the register. Today, my heart sank when I saw a framed photograph of the owner and Scott Brown hanging next to it. “Great food, service, and smile,” Brown had written next to his signature. Autograph, in this case, I suppose.

The chai here isn’t quite right, either. The mix is too sweet. They have another kind, but I suspect from the “tiger spice” title that it may be too strong, a little too spicy. I feel like Goldilocks when it comes to chai.

A couple’s voices speaking English breaks into my space here at the counter. An older couple, drinking cappuccinos. I hear talk of the gunk in one of their eyes, of the performance of Beatrice last night in a Shakespeare play I can’t remember the name of. I feel a bit like Harriet the Spy. The woman rocks herself back and forth to propel herself out of the chair, grabbing her canes to make her way back out the door.

It’s not an ideal place to write. It’s not without faults. But perhaps that makes it perfect? Will I need to wait until Elizabeth Warren wins the election to make myself a regular? Decide on a different drink of choice? Find another spot nearby? Or realize that it’s all besides the point? A writer writes. (What cranky old writer said that? It escapes me.) I need to just write.

*     *     *     *     *

Things I dream about related to writing:

Bitch Issue 53

Bitch Issue 53: The Underground Issue

Looking for thought-provoking feminist perspectives, recommendations, and reflections on pop culture? Bitch magazine, a project of Bitch Media (they have an active online presence with blogs, podcasts, and more) is exactly what you’re looking for. I devour each new issue on my commute to work (don’t worry, I take the T), wondering how many people will notice I’m reading a magazine entitled Bitch, how many strange looks might be cast my way, and how many approving, conspiratorial nods I might be getting. I wonder this because I’m too wrapped up in reading to notice. From in-depth analyses of current pop-culture trends and politics to recommendations on the latest awesome music, movies, and books, they offer such a range of compelling fodder for feminists—and everyone else, too!

I love the frame that Bitch Media uses to look at our modern world and the ways they creates such rich dialogue. That’s why I was especially excited to open the new issue (53) and see a letter to the editor I wrote! After reading an article in the last issue that posited the word “victim” is a powerful tool for people who’ve survived sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, I sent the following response:

I appreciated Carrie A. Rentschler’s desire for powerful language that can describe “the harms, injuries, and experiences of oppression and domination” (“Waking Wounded,” no. 52), but I find it curious and worrisome that she doesn’t mention using “survivor” language as a way to do that (for cases in which the person is alive, of course, such as with survivors of sexual assault that were mentioned). Using “survivor” acknowledges the negative power of oppression and domination while also highlighting the strength of the person who has endured them. In work that I’ve done as an advocate and volunteer for organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, I’ve found such language important and empowering.

Language is so important and powerful—we use it to shape our worlds, our lives, our experiences. That’s one reason I think “survivor” is such an vital word when we’re talking about domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression. And that power of language is also one reason I am so glad that Bitch Media is out there, empowering people with their contributors’ compelling words, cultivating discussion, and just generally totally rocking.

If you are still making last-minute decisions re: end-of-year donations, definitely consider donating to Bitch Media—or if you’re looking for a perfect gift for your favorite feminist friend (or maybe someone who might not think of themselves as a feminist), a subscription is an awesome way to go!

PS. Goal for 2012: submit a piece to Bitch!

Prompt: There I found myself . . .
Time: 10 minutes

There I found myself, lost. Walking up a small winding street with muddy boots. There was a misty rain, the kind that makes an umbrella feel silly, which was convenient since I didn’t have one. On some level, I knew where I was—on a tiny side street in Howth, a small coastal town north of Dublin. But I didn’t know how to get where I was going. Couldn’t locate the rocky path to the cliff walks that my friend told me I must experience. Of course, I didn’t know where I was going in the bigger ways, too. But that was less disconcerting and more refreshing, amazingly full of daunting but real possibility. I ducked into a small shop that appeared, under the guise of buying a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, a name that only just now occurs to me as redundant. Shy of only asking directions—appearing right off like the lone, lost wandering tourist and seeker that I was, even though the moment I walked in the door, I appeared as such—I first perused the shelves, made my selection, paid for it, and thanked the shopkeeper before I asked offhandedly about directions. She kindly pointed me in the right direction and told me to be careful—the trails were slippery with all the rain. She may have said something about being alone, I’m not sure. Either way, I set off with new purpose in my step, appreciating the concern for my safety, knowing that I would be fine, I would be great, I would be exactly where I needed to be no matter how lost I was.

Before I left my job as associate editor at Kripalu, I had the good fortune to take Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop. Below is a piece I wrote about the experience, just printed in the newest Kripalu catalog.

I love singing—in the shower, in the car, around my apartment—always by myself. I hate public speaking. My voice shakes, my hands tremble, my heart races. So, it logically follows that the idea of singing in front of people terrifies me, even in front of really close friends. And yet, somehow, the weekend after Thanksgiving last year, I found myself standing in front of a room of 27 strangers, staring at the floor, trying to find the strength somewhere inside of me to sing the first few lines of “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent.

I’d gotten to a point in my life where I was sick of letting my fear silence me. In all sorts of ways. So I signed up for Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop, something I had always wanted to do but never gotten up the nerve to.

The first night of the workshop, we all sat in a circle, sharing our goals, which ranged from singing karaoke to improving vocal technique to just getting started or getting back into singing again after a long break. We sang simple things together and did warm-ups and exercises to work on tone and projection. You could feel the nerves in the room calm a bit, and excitement and joy begin to bubble up.

Claude urged us to hold on to the reasons we were there. He told us that emotions would naturally come up during the weekend. “Don’t think, just sing,” he said, urging us to let our intention to sing be more powerful than anything else—more powerful than nerves, emotions, fear. Scared? Sing louder. Crying? Sing through the tears. Just keep singing, even if it’s “Row Your Boat” or “la la la.”

That’s how I found myself in front of the room, staring at the floor. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth … and nothing came out. Still looking at the floor, I took another deep breath and then sang my song quietly, hands gripping my pockets for dear life.

Claude has an uncanny ability to know just what to say, just what exercise will get you—and by you, I mean anyone—to loosen up and let it out. He knew my goal was to get past the fear that silences me, so he identified volume as the first thing to tackle. “Volume is the key today—to life, to everything,” he said, which felt so incredibly true for me.

We started with baby steps. Literally. He asked me to take a half-step toward the audience (“I don’t think you could get any further from us unless you opened that window behind you”), and then another half-step. Then I sang about what scares me, to a tune Claude provided. Half of what I sang didn’t even make sense, but I just kept on singing. When I sang that I was scared of looking silly, Claude suggested a new exercise: sing “Seasons of Love” again, only this time with the accent of a Russian from Paris who spent time in Bolivia. When I told him I’m not very good with accents, Claude said, “Perfect!” and sang with me in an accent for the first line or two. It was hilarious. And awesome.

At the end of my time in front of the group, I sang the first lines of “Seasons of Love” one more time—this time looking into the eyes of the people watching me, singing louder, smiling even. I wasn’t shaking; I felt amazing. And I sensed that I could bring this feeling back into my life—this conquering of fear, this getting past silence, this bolstering of self-confidence. Looking around the room, I saw supportive, smiling faces. No one was judging me. One woman said to me afterward, “It’s clear you have so much in there, and we could see it start to come out, and it was beautiful.”

Not only was my time in front of the group amazing, but witnessing everyone else was, too—seeing myself in others, watching people work through what came up for them, appreciating their strength and talent. Recognizing how far each of us came in our own particular ways, in such a short time, was awe-inspiring, and left me wondering what it is that silences all of us. We have things to say. We have things to sing.

Jessica L. Atcheson is a writer and editor whose work has been published in regional newspapers and online. Formerly Associate Editor at Kripalu, she now works as a writer/editor at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in Summer 2010 issue of the Kripalu catalog. Reprinted with permission.

Prompt: I come from . . .
Time: 10 minutes

I come from the earth. From the mud, from the grime, from the moss. The moss with its teeny, tiny, tree-like structures. I want to be a millimeter tall and climb them. Look out from the top across the wet, green mini-forest, the damp, brown earth below. More green, more brown above.

I come from the air—the expansive, deep breath of air I take in at the top of the mountain or just above the water as I rise from underneath the surface of the lake—or my bathtub.

I come from the fire—the smoky wood smell, the red- and orange- and blue-flamed fire. The fires I’ve seen of a house across the street, of the hotel where my parents worked—flames shooting up from the roof. From the fire of emotions—of anger, of love, of something equally strong but in between. From the fire deep within me, inextinguishable, sometimes raging, sometimes crackling, sometimes merely quietly smoldering.

I come from everywhere. And anywhere. And some places in particular. A dark corner in a carpeted closet. A warmly lighted entryway into a cozy apartment. A dream.

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