What I wish I didn’t know

Featured

Every morning this October I’ve been getting up at 4:40 a.m. to meet my Fall Writing Circle via Zoom by 5:00. Eight writers, plus one amazing coach, gather around our screens from Paris, to Boston, from Virginia to Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago. Here on the West Coast the sky is still dark, an owl calls out on most mornings, and in that near dream, early waking day crease we set intentions of what we’ll write about and then get to the work of putting down words.

My intention on Tuesday was to be some sort of witness to the creatures impacted by the oil spill along my beloved Southern California coast. The pollution was spreading even as I wrote.

Susan Greene Photography

This piece then appeared in Voice of OC.

“The Oil Spill Couldn’t Be My Fault”

Isn’t it amazing we all have so many N95 masks and pairs of blue nitrile gloves that we even know what those items are when they top the catalog of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s list of “Things To Donate” after the oil spill?

We all have so many N95 masks because we’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, but less about sea creatures like blue whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins unless we’re on that diesel-powered sightseeing boat, or except for that one sea lion that swam parallel to me in July, following me for more than a mile on my birthday walk at Crystal Cove State Beach. “Aren’t we both trying to figure out where I’m going?” I asked and it surfaced at the surf line again and again, fixing those brown liquid eyes on mine.

We’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, that even though we might intend to stop needing, wanting, using crude oil we definitely need, want, and use all the things that Amazon delivers Free! Within 24 hours for Free! A 20-pair pack of blue gloves to keep our hands clean delivered. Free! And who are we kidding? We’re no Greta Thunberg, we just drive a seven-year-old regular gas-eating car because those new electric ones are so expensive, like electric bikes, and wind power isn’t good for birds, we all know that, and we live on a giant hill two miles from the nearest market and we’ve all just got to eat and who can walk for food?

We might intend to stop needing, wanting, using all the things crude oil can deliver but without jet fuel how can we fly to some other beach place, like say, Kauai and snorkel above the reef ringing Anini Beach to be brushed by a sea turtle before the reef dies? I mean, we love the ocean and the ocean animals and we want to swim with them, right, and show our grandkids how a white paper plate and ribbon strings can be crafted into a jelly fish so they can learn about and love the ocean too?

To be brushed by a sea turtle is to feel touched by an angel. You know you’re not supposed to touch them, but if they touch you first it’s not a crime. Is it?

Where is the crime? Everyone wants answers to whose fault it is that the thing buried deep underground, the pipe from an offshore platform named Elly, decided to leak 144,000 gallons of crude oil into our Pacific. Some say it was a ship’s anchor, poorly place, that caused the gash. Blame it on the pandemic. The line of cargo ships waiting to be let into port stretches for miles and miles. There’s a crush of stuff waiting on the waves with not enough dock workers to work the dock so yeah, blame it on the sea captain who didn’t know where to park. Someone’s gotta pay for this disaster.

Meanwhile, over at Oiled Wildlife Care Network a rescue group working out of the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine School, a report has been initiated and the count begins for Pipeline P00547 Incident Wildlife Recovery, a detailed list of creatures found doused in oil. As of Tuesday, October 5, 2021 it read like this: Three Western Grebes. One Sanderling. One Eared Grebe. One Ruddy Duck. One American Coot. One Brown Pelican that had to be euthanized because it was too injured to save.

Is it the pelican I watched this summer, skimming the sea in Laguna? Probably not, there are hundreds of pelicans. And anyway, what’s the loss of one small thing?

Susan Greene Photography

Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking along with me that, whether we pause to recognize the fact or not, every life, every action, on this beautiful planet is interconnected. Volunteer applications to help with the clean-up effort are now being accepted through Cal Spill Watch.

Catherine

P.S.
For more exquisite pelican photography, check out Susan Greene’s post, “A New Perspective,” over on Backyard Sisters.

And if you’re ever looking for an amazing writing coach to help with fiction, memoir, finding an early morning writing circle, or perhaps writing a book in a year, I’m having the very best experience with Diane Zinna. And if writing isn’t your thing, then let this be the sign you’re waiting for that, whatever your thing is, life is so much sweeter when you surround yourself with a group that supports and uplifts you. Did you know that pelicans are gregarious birds? Social animals which generally hunt cooperatively? Go find your fellow pelicans.

Humbled and just wow

acknowledgement

This is a first.

I was really surprised when I got the final manuscript from one of my writing clients to send to my book designer and saw that she had added an “Acknowledgements” page to her book. There, in print, was my name on the very first line of acknowledgments.

This spontaneous burst of gratitude reminds me how hard it can be to invest in the time to write about yourself, but how infinitely rewarding it can feel after you make the effort and hold the final book in your hand.

Every person I work with inspires me with their dedication to the art of writing their life.

Thank you, dear writer, for trusting me with your story. And you’re most welcome. My pleasure. It was nothing. It was everything.

Is this your year to start to Write, Right My Life?

Write, right your life

Polaroid

I just got off the phone with a woman who’s thinking about starting to write her life story. But she’s not sure she should spend time on herself, because as she put it, “I haven’t done anything unusual. How can I write a whole book about nothing?”

Something I once told my “Composing Self” college students jumped to mind. I assigned the students a photo essay project, to create a collection of nine photos and nine pages of prose, about anything that represented themselves. This wide expanse of possibility had some students frozen. To help them determine how, or if, their lives reflected meaning, I gave them this homework; I gave the woman on the phone today the same suggestion.

Write down what you believe is important to you.
Then go about your day.
Focus on a few things that catch your attention. Study them. Jot them down. Photograph them if you like.
Return to your belief list.
Maybe you really aren’t doing anything unusual. Or, a
re you putting your body where your heart insists your values lie?
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until you discover how your experiences do align with your beliefs. Or, if they don’t make a plan to make it so.
This is all you need to do and everything important to write, right your life.

I’m sharing this prompt with you because in September, 2020 it seems essential to be intentional with our actions. Of course the idea of writing a personal belief statement isn’t original. There are religious creeds, artist’s statements, and political movement manifestos. All are essentially statements about what directs a person’s behavior, their lives.

One of the most beloved and enduring public declarations of this practice is collected at “This I Believe: A public dialogue about belief – one essay at a time.” On the site you’ll find thousands of entries from a wide range of well-known figures, yes, but the majority of these essays are from ordinary people trying to discover their beliefs through the action of writing. One of my favorites, “Thirty Things I Believe,” was written in 2009 by Tarak McLain in honor of his 100th day of kindergarten. Some of his beliefs are:

I believe everyone is weird in their own way.

I believe people should not give up.

I believe love is everywhere.

While writing a personal belief statement isn’t new, the idea of using a personal belief statement to organize and focus a life story, is unique to my story coaching approach. I’ve come up with a name for this type of project. “Write, Right My Life.” When I work with clients we aren’t strictly writing memoir, not straight forward autobiography. I’m helping humans focus on writing the life elements that show how each unique individual led, and is leading, their “right” life.

When people come to me, ordinary people who “haven’t done anything unusual,” it’s important  for us to discover together how “nothing” lives have really amounted to everything.

From a photo of an ice cream truck, I urge forth the story of a childhood summer ritual of chasing ice cream trucks with siblings and parents, cousins and grandchildren during family reunion weeks. I believe in spending time with my family.

The way Saturday afternoon drum jam sessions reflect a lifelong obsession with music passed from grandmother to daughter to grandson. I believe I must make something beautiful every day.

The Polaroid photography scavenger hunts that are part of every road trip become one chapter on travel. I believe in paying attention to what is new.

Try writing out your personal manifesto. Focus on what you really believe. Then check in with your actions and see how aligned they are with your beliefs.

As for what I believe, here are a few things:
I believe in anticipation and reflection.
I believe in trying again.
I believe in trying again and again and again after that.
I believe in myself.
I believe in you.
I believe in the deepest center of all humans there is at least a flicker of goodness capable of flaring and spreading at any moment.

May you find a little time to write, right your life this week.
Catherine

If you’re more interested in what it looks like to Write, Right My Life – how long it takes, how much it costs, if you’re too old to begin, or too young – check out the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Through my mother’s eyes

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_26fa

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

She said, “Show me how you meditate.”

One of my favorite kind acts of January was sharing mindfulness meditation resources with my mom and dad.

Do you want great ideas for ways to spread kindness in February?

Reach out on the contact form below and I’ll share a gorgeous February calendar to give you a kindness quest for every day. The 8 1/2 x 11″ printable PDF calendar is free. It’s intentionally designed by Monica Greene, a young artist I’m crazy about.

Xr1JyrgLT7Olk19gHXxSPA_thumb_273b

From her design stylesheet:

“That leads me to the color palette. Flowers such as primrose and violet are often associated with February as they are the first flowers to bloom in the cold. I thought this imagery was beautiful as they are harbingers of spring and better things to come and your calendar is serving as a harbinger of positivity and beauty in the winter month…

The leaves are from the Ash tree, another symbol for February and by calling on the tree a source I read says, “…you are seeking a clarification for your own vision and path”. I thought this calendar could be the clarification needed…”
Monica Greene

Go be kind.
Share your kindness journey at #KindInKind
~Catherine

 

A fall class offering

IMG_0036

Yesterday a coyote shadow crossed the trail. Chester, my big white dog, growled and I stooped to grab a fist-sized rock. At home this morning, slight breeze rustled the wind chime.

This year fall it feels odd because, for the first time in more than a decade, I’m not teaching. I wonder how I’ll pace my writing.

Some writers insist the only discipline is a daily practice. I cannot doubt the value of this. But Terry Tempest Williams, one of my hero writers, opens my mind to a different possibility:

I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer–in hibernation. I write with the bears.
From: Terry Tempest Williams Interview. The Progressive.

My own practice looks different from the writers who insist you must write every day, you must produce, you must train the brain to perform on demand.

I write with moon and coyotes and silence. I write in all seasons but there are weeks when I don’t write at all. I like to write with humans.

To keep myself accountable this fall, I’ve decided to take a class. One of my own: Composing Self. I’ve taught it many times and if I’m any good at this teaching thing, I should learn quite a bit.

Do you want to take this course with me?

If you’re intrigued with the prospect of having someone curate a reading list for you, and create regular writing prompts, check out the details on the page: COMPOSING SELF, Fall 2018

School begins Monday, October 1, 2018 and ends Friday, December 7.
There’s a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

What’s the cost?
What do you think I’m worth? Pay me what seems fair when the class is over.

If you want a jumpstart to your writing life, to join our fall community of writers for a short 10-week class, send me a note using the contact form.

Just to say what we’re doing here

open arms

Once upon a time, my sister, the amazing photographer Susan Greene, and I shared a blog space called Backyard Sisters.

Sue gets credit for this open-armed, wet-footed photo of me. She always has her camera out on family adventures. My niece recently sent me this photo and said, “it’s a perfect reflection of how I see you: Arms open wide, smiling, and happy.”

Fun fact: Susan and I are middle sisters, a demographic that’s on the decline as families become smaller.

Vintage sisters

If you’re concerned about one way smaller families may impact our culture, you can read up on the wonders of the non-firstborn, or non-lastborn, baby in Adam Sternbergh’s piece, “The Extinction of the Middle Child.” To sum up what I find interesting:

“In fact, the more you learn about the skills of classic middle children — peacemakers, risk takers, levelheaded loyalists with expansive friend groups — the more middle children seem essential to our survival.”

Adam Sternbergh, “The Middle Child is Going Extinct”

So, now that we’ve established Susan and I are essential to your survival, you can follow my writing here and you can find Susan’s creative work at Susan Greene Photography. And if you’re a sentimentalist for Backyard Sisters, we’ll keep it up for a while, post together every now and then. We do still like to share food and places to go and it would be so unlike our spirit of sharing to forever vanish such popular gems as our famous Jalapeño Lemonade recipe, or “I love you yellow,” one of my most popular love posts.

I mean our Backyard Sisters motto has always been: “saving ordinary moments from the brink of oblivion.” And we’re not about to go dark now.
~ Catherine

sunflowers