The Memoir: A Saturated Trend in Publishing or Beneficial Genre for All Readers?

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In last April’s edition of The Atlantic, Leslie Jamison defended the Memoir and other forms of published personal reflection as being effective tools for readers to use in order to understand or investigate ways of being. She argues that books in this genre need not be trendy and vacuous or narcissistic and confessional outlets. Alongside “Self help” or “How To” types of texts, the Memoir connects the audience with a journey or a path that someone else has followed and that the reader may be about to embark upon or is in the process of experiencing in some form. For many, to sit quietly and privately with another person’s viewpoint on an odyssey through an illness, a pursuit of spiritual and physical healing, or a path to success or failure and redemption is enlightening and empowering. The reader is anonymous. The reader does not need to ask questions or share their own experience. They can simply be with the words.

I must say that I have, for a long time, been skeptical of the current popularity of the Memoir. Of course, someone who has had an impact on the world or in their field is someone who should write a Memoir or an Autobiography. Scholars and fans alike want the inside story in the individual’s words. Even if rhetorical authority is in question, the entry into this person’s world is at least a lead that can direct you to other research or leads. But what about the Memoir that is from a person who does not seem to have accomplished anything substantial except that they were published? I hear Terry Gross from NPR often interviewing someone whose just published their Memoir. Someone who may not have written anything previously and has been obscure otherwise. Or, perhaps this person has not been writing long enough or prolifically to have much to offer in the way of life experience yet. Why in the world do I care what they did or when or how? Jamison enlightened me.

We can take from these writers’ reflections what we need or want to know. We can adopt for ourselves a person’s approach to life or feel less alone in our own dilemma. Overall we engage and respond rather than just coming to their texts as voyeurs or passive audiences. Jamison writes that “[l]ife is evidence. It’s fodder for argument.”

I still choose to read about someone who has lived at least 50 years or who has been in a business or discipline for at least a few decades, but that is my preference. I want to read about long-term events and experiences. Someone else may need timely events mapped out and have access to immediate answers. Ultimately, I am converted. The Memoir is of value and the wider the variety of authors and discussion points, the more people who can benefit from the wisdom imparted.

What Causes Laziness?

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Maybe asking “What is laziness?” might be more appropriate for this post. I’m not discussing the lackadaisical feeling that comes with a nice spring day or even a general feeling of lethargy after illness or when faced with unwanted tasks to complete. I am concentrating on the kind of laziness that prevents someone from bothering to do their best and, in its manifestation, shows a lack respect for the people affected by this inaction or indifference.

For my courses, I have a strict attendance policy that includes limitations on how late a student can arrive. After the 10-minute cut off, the late arrival is recorded and, at three instances, these become the equivalent of one absence.  At four absences, the final grade drops one letter. At five, the course is failed. Why? Because structure is important for learning–especially in a community. It’s also about respect as well as goals and outcomes. So, if a student shows up late regularly, they disrupt my lecture or a fellow student’s commentary/presentation, and it is inevitable that the chronic absentees will ask repeatedly for updates. In both cases, the students’ work calculably suffers from their lack of engagement.

Yes, I do also have a policy on unnecessary phone or computer use: After three instances the student is marked absent and each time after that they are marked absent (see above for attendance policy). If I am putting effort out for their benefit, this laziness tells me that my efforts are wasted and also disregarded.

This is an issue in some yoga classes as well. Some students do not respect the time the teacher is taking for us and will look at cell phones, answer them, or generally start talking about things unrelated to the class. Really, it’s not like they have time to be bored. This lack of consideration for the overall goals of the class and the group as a whole is of concern.

This is where the issue of laziness comes in. Courtesy and compassion take effort. Effort at paying attention. Effort at considering life outside of your own. Effort at acknowledging that the person in charge is there because they are an expert and want to teach these skills to those who took the seat or mat space that someone else might have had access to.

I think that the absence of respect and consideration come from a lack of inspiration or a lack of vision as to what the moment’s teaching and can lead to. How ready are people to reach out of a comfort zone and face being unsure in the next steps of a process? This inability to think beyond the moment or to create a sense of connection between subject matter or colleagues and classmates should not be an insurmountable condition.

I think that laziness in the face of learning comes from a disconnect from a sense of goals. A lack of instant gratification and a dearth of foresight. In other words, this type of laziness is not a benign state of procrastination, nor is it necessarily a passing state of being. Without a connection to a long-term goal (with flexibility in outcomes), there is no spirit in one’s effort and the laziness that brings about indifference could become a chronic condition.

No amount of regulation and rules will help. the only thing left to those of us affected is to create structure and adhere to our standards. Compassion and patience do come in to play, but the recipient has to be ready to make proper use of these. I try to be that guide but, sometimes, I must remove the lazy person from my class or move away from the classmate. It’s the uncomfortable effort I must put out if I am going to learn and progress.

All Experience is Relevant to All of Our Creativity

No experience is ever a waste. If you make an effort to understand your behavior in the context of the cause-and-effect pattern of our world, you can see, in your own time, how you come to react to events physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. Never one to blame the victim or settle for this unfocused “everything happens for a reason” catchphrase, I do hold to the idea that we make very specific choices that lead to the encounter in question. No, you did not give yourself cancer, or “ask” to be victimized in a robbery, or shunned by people who disagree with you. But you chose to go to the doctor and get a diagnoses. You chose to exercise your right to walk outside alone  or voice your opinion. Within these actions, someone or some people made their choices.

Your job is to dissect the experience and figure out what to take away from the moment. Be thankful you got the diagnoses when you did. You could make the plans that save you or keep you in control of your care. Be mindful that you have the right to function unmolested and the perpetrator is at fault. Even If you have voiced opinions and viewpoints with respect and compassion, frankness and certitude, couldn’t someone still potentially have an issue with them? The presentation may be well done but not everyone has the ability to receive the content with measured, objective analysis. If you were rude or inappropriate, well . . .

OK, you ask, where does this fit into your overall theme of writing? Nope, it’s not just recording the events or remembering the emotions for your characters that may be placed in this scenario. This is for your personal as well as professional well being. How do stories come to you? How do job contacts come to you? How do you filter the world around you so that experiences can be treasured as affirmation of your strengths and value? Not indignation and proof of being “right,” but proof of being here as you. And how do these realizations undergo a kind of transformation into text.

These acknowledgments affect your tone and your choice of subject matter. You reject or accept your responses to and feelings about the world when you write. My own longing for a sense of relevance and worth today has pushed my ego into the fore and pushed me to reach out here, now. If I were not disappointed in having opened myself to public rudeness because I was trusting and assumed that someone I did not know would have integrity (see my post Kindness in Writing), I would not be admonishing you to be mindful and careful about your writing self. Ultimately, since there was nothing illegal or permanently damning in my recent  experience that might require overt confrontation and action, it became a platform for reflection and this post is my catharsis. My choice to filter the experience in a healthy way.

I wish all experiences could be so easily resolved and that I had the wisdom and fortitude to regularly forgive others their unkindness, folly, and unprofessional acts, and myself my own wrong choices and mistakes. But, that is why we call yoga a practice and our writing will need revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindness in Your Work

I have just had the terrible experience of having a “fellow” blogger recommend blocking and shunning my work simply because I could not create a post for him. Due to personal and sad reasons, I could not produce even work for myself but this person universally bashed me and some others without consideration for our reputations or personal circumstances.
I agree that it is difficult when editing group work to handle or balance content or lack thereof, but where does common decency and professionalism become personal and public rabble rousing?
I would never tell anyone to block another’s blog. That is not any of our right to dictate. Unless the content is cruel, crude, illegal, or offensive to basic decent caring people, I can only see personal vendetta and immaturity in this kind of behavior.
Please always remain mindful of the damage created by letting ego and revenge get in the way of mindful and productive creativity.

Do They Have the Equivalent of 750words.com for Yoga Poses?

I am just a joiner I guess. I need to have a group to inspire me or some kind of location to go to. Just like I wrote yesterday about the kind of computer or environment I need for writing, I need a similar vibe for my yoga.

OK, call it avoidance, but if that were it, I’d never get myself out anywhere to write or practice. Isn’t it possible to be sensitive to your location? Really, when people say that money doesn’t buy happiness, I can only think that my hypothetical misery would ease if I were on the Riviera rather than skid row. I’m just sayin’ . . .

So, now that I have the wonderful new mat, I want to put it down in a space that “feels” open and relaxing–and that place is most often NOT my home. I love my home, and it is filled with wonderful pieces from many great artists we’ve known. My son’s art projects are incredibly beautiful to me. BUT I’ve very little floor space. Where I feel embraced and cozy when relaxing, I feel enclosed and restricted when trying to let the energy of the day direct me and my practice.

When I think about it, my weaving self is the same way. Only in this case, I learned to weave on looms in small spaces (small brownstone in Baltimore, small apartment in a booth at a Renaissance festival, a tiny space in my parents’ town house that barely fit the loom and my equipment). When I was able to put my loom in a larger space, I felt as if I were afloat in this vast openness and could not create. Even now, I have a large studio space for my weaving and felting, but I keep the smaller loom in the corner and my felting space is also tucked away.

So far, then, as I review this public therapy session, I think I’ll just get off of my own case and accept that environment is very much a key to how I practice, write, weave, felt, think . . .

Own it, right?

Openness and Breathing: They Even Help Your Writing

Today, my yoga instructor, Allison, worked on guiding us in envisioning and feeling the true expansiveness of breath we can achieve if we let go of tension and acknowledge how much our upper bodies come into play to create a true flow of air and expansion. This reminded me of a book someone once gave me called The Science of Breath. As I understand, it is in our abdomens that our breath should begin to “fill” our bodies. Our lungs may be the key organs for this process, but it is in our whole torso, front and back, that we maximize their function. We need to feel our bellies and our backs fill. We need to let our ribs expand. So we need to be mindful of how we feel physically so we can remain open to how we think and act. I couldn’t help then thinking about why it is so many of us restrict our breathing and how we limit other capacities—and why.

Allison’s efforts at having us imagine the area behind our rib cages as caves, as her own instructor has taught her, encouraged us to fill this area and almost touch our back bodies with our abdomens. Not closing off so much as opening fully and then gently contracting and pushing the air up and up through more regions and, thus, nourishing more of our selves. For those of us not regularly in practice of this and and more often stressed enough to hold our breath or breathe more shallowly, it was almost hard to create this openness. We didn’t know where to “put” all of the air or how to let if flow. Our chests almost felt constricted rather than open, but this can be rectified once we reconfigure our bodies to enable the air to flow where is should and needs to rather than where we have allowed it. It’s kind of like getting unused muscles in shape. It’s not comfortable at first, but when done properly, it’s liberating and enlivening.

This all of course brought me to think about the layers of fat so many Americans pad themselves with and wonder if this padding is a way to insulate us from having to feel the discomfort of reconfiguring our bodies and our minds. It takes work and is sometimes uncomfortable at first. It takes patience. In a culture of here-and-now immediacy, opening up more than our mouths to new experiences and feeling our bodies as they are–in the processes we find ourselves in the movement–is scary. It seems to be more appealing to become numb and to create distance from our awareness. So, the padding of fat is a distance between the openness of our caves/ribs, and the space we can create in our bodies. This space must be terrifying and we try to fill it any way possible. So, we eat and get full, stay full, and breathe more shallowly so nothing else can get in and disturb us.

But how am I going to tie these thoughts and observations in to the writing life? Well, I can find connections in many things that at first may not seem logically aligned. I’m a writer and relatively good researcher who uses her analytical mind to find connections that are viable. Meaning that you don’t need pure faith to believe or consider my perspective. You of course don’t need to agree with me. So, how do you “pad” your pages? Do you have language equivalents of body fat because the silence or blank spaces are too uncomfortable? Do you feel that your worth as a writer is only as weighty as the mass on the screen? We are encouraged to write and write and write in order to prevent “blocks” or losing our good habits. But noise is noise; words are words. Does mass equal accomplishment? Sit with the emptiness and discover where the expansion or contractions really fit. Are you embracing the full potential of your characters or story or are you just concerned with page count? The fullness comes from effort that is not always a smooth process. With your practice comes the sudden eureka or enlightenment that tells you the approach was just right and all the padding you had added was just a block or burden. As I always tell my students and writing group: Working hard is not the same as working right. Knowing what is right takes practice and mindfulness and only then can you feel as if it is all flowing in the right direction. Feel comfortable with the expansiveness in your body, your mind, and then your page.

Quality is Better Than Quantity–Be it Yoga Poses or Words Written

Many bloggers find themselves falling short of time to write, and I have been quite remiss in posting for some time. All for good reasons of course. Busy work schedule–and that is something to say for a freelancer at the beginning of the summer! Quality time with the family is another important priority. But, also, I need to feel inspired to write. There is just no reason to ask for your attention and time if I’ve only posted to maintain a presence in general. You stop to read my posts because you’ve found something you enjoy or look forward to. I won’t mess with that and would rather hope that I don’t disappoint when I appear.

Honestly, you know what has taken away from my creativity? A lack of yoga. While we all can and should practice our yoga anywhere and anytime we can, I am very much a creature of community and do also need a spiritual conversation or exchange with like-minded people as often as possible. My absences from my yoga class have caused a disruption in my creative flow.

I did receive some spiritual nourishment last weekend when I spent time in the Catskills with my family. I’ve been part of that world, or it has been part of me, since I was born. It’s my second home, my only long-term/permanent address before we landed in our current home. That refreshing return to the known, the dependable, was rejuvenating.

From the moment I roll down my window to smell the wild grasses and flowers and hear the sounds of the creek flowing full after the rains to the time I unlock the door of the cabin and see the stone fireplace waiting for the evening flames, I feel like myself again. I know what is expected of me and the tasks involved with settling in are never resented like those of the usual world of work and housework. Even the relentless encroachment of nature that includes mice inside and porcupines chewing the outside walls is more embraceable than dusting and vacuuming at home.

This is much, to me, like taking a yoga class with my favorite instructor Allison Levine and the people I’ve come to know over the years instead of fighting for space at home. I may be able to practice at home, but do I embrace the poses the same way? Am I able to remain mindful? Honestly, no. I need to roll my mental window down and breathe in a different kind of air. One filled with the comforting voices of people I care about, music that inspires happiness even in my least favorite pose (side plank), or that does not immediately deliver the scents of obligation like laundry detergent or cooking food (as nice as that may be).

So, quality wins. I make the time to write or practice as I can and in the location that encourages the kind of mindset that heals and energizes me. Write mindfully and practice authentically, even if that means not always getting in the volume you desire.

The Beauty of Community

The Community Story group just saw the May deadline for the latest prompt arrive and there were some great contributions to work with. The online presence was not as strong as hoped, but we know this will grow with time. We realized that sometimes people are reluctant to step in on something as traditionally sacrosanct as someone else’s story – incomplete or otherwise. It may take time for the online community to realize that this is their story too. In the mean time, the local gathering here in Flemington brainstormed some incredible storylines and will be taking the next 2 weeks to compare and contrast the possible trajectory and resolution of the narrative.

I found myself out of  my element last Friday as most everyone in the meeting leaned towards a kind of sci-fi or dystopian plotline. That is just not my forte. But that is the beauty of community writing. There is no one voice and there is no guarantee that you can stay in your comfort zone or allow yourself to stagnate. As these posts almost inevitably tie in to mindfulness and openness, you’ll not be surprised to read that once I accepted my feelings of insecurity and ineptitude in the face of a completely unexpected thematic focus and much more experienced writers of this kind of tale, a full page’s worth of text just flowed out of me in a matter of moments. What a thrill.

Another important gift that comes with openness and welcoming the muse or inspiration is that a kind of energy swells internally and warms you physically as well as emotionally. Breathing can become smoother and freer if you pay attention  the flow of your thoughts and even crave challenges. All things become fluid. Your talents and skills can only wither in the  vice that is avoidance and doubt.

It’s going to be a long two weeks waiting for our next gathering.

 

 

The Stress of the Business Battle vs. The Rewards of Defending Your Rights

While I generally hate the energy it takes to sustain a confrontation, I’m not one to shrink from defending what is right. Common courtesy is right. Good business practices are right. Ethical choices are right. Acknowledging mistakes is right. What is not right is to make someone have to push you in any of these directions.

I’m very frustrated right now and not really living my yoga practice as I must pursue someone who insists on using one of my business names. I predate this person by many years but, due to lack of good research or blatant disregard, she is still using the name. I really don’t wish her ill. She seems to do good work and I’m not one to bully a creative entity; but, really, must she use something already owned? Are there no other names available out there?

Let’s say she just did not pay attention. OK, no problem. Just “cease and desist” as they say and everyone is happy. But this is not the case and I am just simply unhappy having to get big and loud. I’ll do it if I have to, but why? Really? Think about it. There is plenty of room out there for many new stories, many new songs, brands for businesses, titles . . . Is it really necessary to make someone have to, well, fight you for a place in the world?

There is nothing good about spending this kind of energy on negative and unnecessary problems. As writers, we need to respect our predecessors, embrace our contemporaries. As business people, we need to put it on ourselves to create our own niche, not invade someone else’s. If we find ourselves embroiled in this sad but common problem, try to embrace some kind of grace and dignity in it. Even do your best to avoid putting your counterpart in a bad position. Hold your ground yes, but lets not make it all muddy.

Lost: L-dog. When last seen, quite strong and ready for hand stands. Reward offered.

This is not the first time I’ve written about a yoga pose that has eluded or plain left me for a time. Yes, lack of practice of a particular pose or series of poses does account for the weakness, but it is frustrating to regress. I call it a loss because it’s not as simple as just practicing again. It is a mind set as well as a muscle memory that needs to return. It is about relearning and not only rediscovering how the pose felt, but also about discovering a new strength and finesse.

When I realized I could not simply move into my L-dog the other day, it was humbling to say the least. I had a group of much younger women around me simply stepping up and staying put—no shaking arms or anything! I was struggling like I’d never done it before. The ole legs just didn’t have it. Still, I found something to take from my practice that day: don’t neglect anything you’ve learned. Don’t assume it all stays with you. Age is only one factor. Ability is another. The more adept you are at something, the more you might get away with neglecting your practice, but, eventually, the staleness shows.

As I watched some of the Olympics on TV, I saw the same dilemma for some of the athletes. Some simple or routine moves did not work out. Some of the skiers had terrible times. Speed skaters didn’t start fast. The weather was an issue and still is, I know, but that is part of what I am talking about. Messed up schedules, unexpected obstacles, stress, they all contribute to the level of performance of even elite competitors. How is it not going to be a problem if we amateurs or lower-level competitors don’t keep up the work?

For the writers who read this blog, take heed. This is a reminder that your writing chops need to be honed no matter what. Time off, stress, doubt, fear, you name it. They can stifle your efforts. Or, simple complacency can hobble you. My L-dog was curbed by the expectation that it would always respond when beckoned. Wrong. Nothing, not writing, not yoga, not any sport or skill can stay sharp and graceful without attention.

Practice—stay fresh, stay strong.