Friday, December 20, 2013

Always Been What You Will Always Be

Here goes yesterdays writing practice - Ageless: 15 years ago today I was at Abbot in labor with my tall, deep voiced boy. He was just a dream at that point and has transformed many times since then. Alan Watt says the reason we write is to evolve. That phrase always confused me. Although I am beginning to understand it better. We write in order to evolve. To change. To grow. To develop. And I have witnessed millions of different manifestations in my boy. So hard when he was born and didn't know how to nurse. He was perfectly happy just to feel and wave his little hands through the air. He was a dancer even then, so different than the way Otto holds his arms in, keeps them above his head, fists his hands. Henry's little palms were wide open and swishing through the air as if he were surprised to not find water and the pressing walls of an uterus. The crying four month old in Israel. The tantrumming 1 and 1/2 year old in the new house. The big brother after Nathalie. The school boy. The artist. The beauty boy. The 5th grader. Brutal. The middleschooler. No big deal. The highschooler. So tenuous and delicate. The urban boy. Fun. The 15 year old. Today.

Today I write about that first transformation. Birth and new mom-hood. From the nurse who said that you never take pitocin without pain meds. Just tell me I can't, bitch. To the other nurse who said she hoped when she had a baby her birth would be just like mine. Kindness. To that lazy little boy feeling the air. Just feeling. He was so him even before he transformed to the next him. He didn't nurse. Wasn't forceful enough. Didn't attack it. Needed to absorb it. As he does all things. Josh and I set up our little assembly line for midnight feedings. I pumped, Josh would receive the milk and then dropper it into a babybird mouth. It seemed like months of this. Introducing formula, said to change his gut forever. Heartbreak. I was so scared of doing things wrong. Not trying hard enough. Not being what I should be.

The question, was I doing this for him or for me? There it was, the crux of my transformation. Could I imagine being the mother of a bottle fed infant? When this got too hard for Josh, for Henry, could I stop and give in to what I very desperately didn't want to be? Were my aspirations of natural parenting, my image of the way motherhood should go, being tested? And what was the real lesson here, the real transformation. Could I recognize his needs beyond my own? This was my first lesson in parenthood (unless you count the pitocin and nurse incident - which of course you can). This transformation of ours was as much for me as it was for him. I cried alone in my room on my bed in between harrowing pumping/eye dropping sessions. We made the transformation to breastfeeding mother and child perhaps because I did face that a lot of me was wrapped up in what he did. It makes me grateful to remember how much responsibility he has had to bare. Unknowingly then. But maybe now he knows, now that he is this wise/caring little boy/big man. 

I bow to the teacher in him. Thanks to Henry for the way you carry us all. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! To us both

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Punk Princess in Training

Years ago, when I was in grad-school, I took a fiction class with Kate Green. It was filled with my new cohort and some other people and I was very insecure about my ability to write fiction, but I had to take it for my degree and it ended up that I loved it. It turns out Kate Green had so much influence on the way I teach now. I wouldn't say that Kate Green taught the way I do now. She tried harder to meet the confines of traditional creative writing instruction where you focus on craft and things that people believe are teachable. But in her class there were these Jungian exercises that she gave out. My first experience of a teacher that played with your subconscious in writing and wasn't all rational and heavy-handed. And in the process she gave us an exercise to find our muse. I discovered that my muse was a pair of wings. Actually in my muse-box first was this cozy comforter that I recognized from my grandma's house. This red and brown flannel thing that my sisters and I always fought over and when I she said I could lift it out, I swung it out of the box and around my shoulders, but mid swing she said it transformed to something else. Wings. All of a sudden, instead of the cozy cocoon of a blanket that had been around my whole entire life, I had these white feathered angel wings attached to my shoulder blades. Huge. Cold. I was cold and terribly uncomfortable. They were heavy on my shoulder blades and I immediately had a back ache. These were my muse. 

At the time, I only guessed what it meant. And I didn't like it much. And I didn't heed my subconscious' instruction. I was in grad school. With a whole bunch of people that were meant to be there. Their birthright was to write and I got in because some mistake in fate. I was unworthy. So I spent my time trying to fit in. I believed the experts, that there was an expert thing I could learn, and then I would be without reservation, the expert and have a right to be in the program with everyone else. 

What were the wings really trying to tell me? I knew they meant I should fly. But I decided to interpret that as my pen was meant to fly. That my words were too few and I should push past and write many. But I couldn't. I wasn't interested in the meaningless crap that came out when my pen did what it should. What if I had considered what they really meant? The muse told me to examine my habits, my comforts, my beliefs and find my wings in those things. But because I was deathly afraid of what I would find, I did what I thought was expected of me. Writing more was what I thought I should do. And learning to fit in and be the expert was also what I thought I should do. If only back then I admitted I didn't belong. That I was a fake, a phony, I had no idea what I was doing. Then I could have taken that hand-out (admission to grad school) and made the most of it. Then I wouldn't have shrank back from opportunity, undeserving, and instead jumped off into space discovering that what the experts thought of me really didn't matter because I had wings. If only I had understood that not belonging was my material, that I had never belonged anywhere in this whole world and that was the whole point of writing. That was the only important thing I had to say, and it was perhaps the only thing that the world needed to hear from me. 

In grad school, the creative writing classes I taught to undergrads fit the mold too, teaching the things that I thought could be taught. Craft. The words and the way they fit together. Structure and repetition. Metaphor and simile. Blah. Blah. But I included some odd ball assignments in there. Visually represent your creative piece. That assignment was my favorite. Half the class would stare at me dumbly, the other half recognized their souls and went to town.

Now my students mostly choose me because of the odd ball. I figure that's my job, what I was meant to do, strip away the flannel comforters of writing and show us writers that it's fun to fly, but the only way to do it is by experiencing the scary, uncomfortable and terribly dangerous act of dismantling everything you understand about yourself and trusting the wings will be there when you need them.

Come to the studio and we can learn to fly side by side if you want (you'll be happy to know, I shoveled the steps.)

Class next Wednesday! It might already be full, email me to find out.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Counting the Words/Drafting

I have a class later. A new one for kiddos. Based on my son's impetus - a NaNo class. This is important for me to do right, because my hope is that NaNo can translate into a writing life worth living. But I have to figure out when to hold forth and when to hold back. I want to talk about motivation. Outward motivation and inward motivation. And I'd love to do it in a magic way, so they don't realize what they are discovering about themselves while they are discovering things about themselves. If they can come to see it like an epiphany, in the same way that your stories can give you that high as you discover things, then the class will be success. And by the end they will be ready to set a realistic goal for themselves. One they can keep and feel good about at the end of the month.

So far, the classes in the new porch have felt fabulous. And this begins a month of many, between the Sunday kid NaNo and the weekday adult Write-in. After such a hard transition into the mansion, it is so gratifying to have something come a little naturally, even as I push the boundaries of it. But perhaps that is because I am in a different spot. Perhaps the transformation has been me.

No. The porch is the fabulousness. And the people that come. Perhaps it is one and the same, all of us together. Bring it, November. (If you want to see my NaNo plans, click through here.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Keeping the Center Solid

This week there is another class in the porch. This time an exercise class. The porch worked well last week, if way too hot. But I can work with too hot. Email if interested.

Also in consideration, write-ins for the month of November, the month of NaNo. At least 3 of my folks are considering/committing to NaNo and it would be fun to support their venture. If you are interested, I could create some writing time here. Same-same, email if interested.

I, myself, have short stories banging on my head trying to get in. My NaNo challenge may be a new short story each week, completing four by the end of NaNo. I have images for three right now. But have yet to figure out the POV. It scares me to consider. But then everything scares me of late. I am never sure and always willing to change my mind, but sometimes I can see things, sometimes they are right in front of my eyes, making me blind to everyother thing in the universe and if they have the effect of loving my family more, if they have the effect of breaking a moment open and showing what it is full of, whether it is pain or joy, allowing me to be there with it and act as some kind of conduit for it. So be it.

Yes. I am crazy.

Please read this list from Brainpickings. I think it is so dead on (also accounts for my title).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Little Prayer for the Week

I am here to do the Sunday routine of rounding up all the disparate journal entries of the week and gathering them into one form. Making a cursory note of where I have been over this week, where I will go over next. (Click through here to read more about it.) I did a cursory neaten this am. The porch has become a kind of playground for Nat and I find the remnants of offices and stores and orphanages tucked into the corners. There is plenty of our adult toys tucked in the corners that I feel the need to round up all of her kid ones and return them to her room. And then it is so ahhh in here that I can work. So now I type and I get to the moment that I am typing and I finally get to the word cake/slave. If I am a slave, let me be a slave to this moment. The one where my ankle aches and I have a kink beneath one shoulder blade, different side, shoulder right, ankle left. I am a slave to this body with its human limitations, aches and pains, fears and obsessions, are they mind or body are they a combination of both? I am no slave to my fears and obsessions. I will mark them and let them spin out before me, worst case scenarios, feeling every twist and turn in their twirling possibilities. And then my best case scenarios, equally as hard to muster the strength for, to see them with my weak and near sighted eyes. Why are they so hard to pull up, fantastic situations where my shoulders are relaxed down my back and the line of light rises from the ground up? Think and see and speak in stories. Think and see and FEEL and speak in stories. Think and see and feel and speak and WRITE in stories.
Come. Write with me on this porch this week! Write-in, Wednesday 7 - 9 pm. Email tina dot laurel at gmail dot com if you want to come!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Decor Issues

I want to put the shag beneath the couch and the coffee table in front of the fireplace. I want to make the downstairs cosy, comfy, millennium central. Josh worries it will be odd, but what are we if not odd? I crave a change in the spaces, meshing livability with lovability, playing with textures and time periods to make all this beloved formality more approachable. I feel this move has torn the blindfold off and now we can't help but see what we survive on. We can't help but see our bones beneath the flesh, the things that hold us up, because so often moving has had us flopping about on the floor, boneless and ugly. We had a gratitude fest out on the curb. Thankful for garbage men and water bottles and each other. Nat was smiling and asking, Why do you keep bringing that up? Josh said, there is plenty to be stressed about, it's good to take note of what is going well. I'm grateful that my parents have all these rugs to share with us. Including a shag.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Life as we know it.

Cast party at the mansion last night. Crazy to have 30 some teens at your house? They are sweet teens. It was the end of the Freshman/Sophomore Musical. But too loud at 2 in the morning. Brave, parents said as they dropped the teens off. If not brave, at least naive. 20 people bigger than I thought the cast was. But we bought the house for this, if not this, something like it. They are eating pancakes on the dining room floor as I write this. And making noise.

We have the space, we might as well use it.

Josh's birthday is today, even though making pancakes for 20 teens is not the special thing that most people wish for on their day, there is something of a gift in it for him. To see the house working as he intended.

What should I tell you that you don't know? -The stump was removed. -It is complicated to mingle three households to one. -Things happen faster when you have this many people living together.

Think about how those people that live with us might feel - that life is going so fast, or perhaps it's hard to have roommates that are such permissive parents.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I have seen the future and it is now!

The porch that was once a second floor kitchen has finally come round to what it is meant to be. Josh tore up two layers of vinyl tile and the plywood sub floor to find a rotted fir floor beneath. At some point it had been left to deteriorate, the wood sprung loose, turned black and the edges split and splintering. That has been the old lady smell we've been noticing. Fermenting house.

Josh has been steadfastly carried things out to the garage; counters and stoves and dishwashers and with Jonathan"s know-how this past Sat, they capped the plumbing and took the sink and the last of the shelves out. This afternoon we spread out the carpet to cover the wood, lit incense to cover the old lady smell, and ensconced the tchatchkas and our new space feels truly feels right.

On a related note, my sis and I were discussing the most used place in the house, the front porch. It has our mid-century modern porch furniture on it. Yellow Naugahyde. Not quite what you'd expect from a turn of the century mansion. But it is as comfortable as hell. And we sit on it incessantly like the Lowry Hillbillies that we are. And equally as unexpected is the table on the other side. My mother brought it from their deck in Oakland and it arrived in the pods last week. Green iron. It is tough and large. Mom had been concerned about it, wondering where it could go, if we could use it, and we mused about the front porch. Now it fit the space perfectly. Something about how it is tucked in there is completely welcoming. It's stature is perfect for the spot and somehow we couldn't have imagined it before hand. Without her encouragement we wouldn't have tried it. How did she know?

I love it when an item from your life finds new purpose. I love that moment of recognition, when you place the item in the new spot and it is as if it was always meant to be. It is like a great sigh of relief. Somehow everything that has got me here to this point in time makes so much sense.

The porch is my new studio! Looking forward to holding writing classes in it - this house is starting to make sense. Can't wait for you to see it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Little Background on the Move

The whole day today I spent moving around furniture, resettling now that my mom's stuff has arrived. It feels so nice here. So awesome to have couches in the living room, rugs on the floor, stuff stored in the around the edges, filling the echo-y corners. We are padded and swaddled. So do you know about my move? I moved in with my sister and her husband, they just had a new baby, named him Otto. He's so perfect! But also my mom is moving in. Did I tell you that? She's awesome. She had to retire early from a high-power job because she was having some memory issues. You know, tracking sort of stuff. And we don't know where this is headed and there is no time like the present, so here we are. My step-father thought he would join her in early retirement and here we are knee deep in messy joining family mode. We have been talking of this for a while. Early on, we went to see a couple other houses. A total tear down and a total build up. So when we came to look at this triplex, just to see how it might feel. We got about 7 feet in and felt doable. And after two hours of nosing through the place, Josh crunched the numbers (with the seller's realtor!) and the money made sense. Today it might just finally feel perfect.

But it has been a long time getting here. We left  neighborhood that we loved, a house that we were very comfortable in and moved away from our routines and patterns of travel. And although the house is grand, tall ceilings, large foyer, window seat and ghosts (maybe), it has been chopped up in such a way, that it desperately needs our care too. In order to be whole again. So our large extended and reasonably happy family has mashed ourselves and our junk into this Frankenstein of a house and we are trying to figure out how to live.

Here is a picture of the pods on the curb taken from our favorite spot in the entire house, the front porch. (Picture missing) Notice the pillar, 1 of 10.

We had an hour and a half to empty the first 3 so they could remove them to make room for these 4.

Also, Exercise Class this week! Wednesday from 7 - 9. I am really looking forward to the time to write.  I also unearthed writing exercises from grad school during my move. So excited to try them out!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Stump

People are regularly sniffing around our stump. Looking to the houses to see what was damaged, lingering and generally being amazed. So the well dressed man on the sidewalk caused no particular pause. We often make eye contact and let folks lament the loss of the tree, it's almost a public service to look brave and friendly in the eyes of the passerby. But this man, dark-rimmed glasses, smooth hair, well-fitting button-up, met our eyes and lamented the tree, remarked on the house damage, and announced, "This should be removed in the next week." He was from the park board and they were starting North and making their way this way, then he went to check in with Jean, our neighbor to the South, who is the reason I got to have this conversation at all. She is lovely and beloved in the neighborhood and beyond, hence personal messages from the park board.

I may actually miss the obstacle at the end of our shared driveway. I will remember fondly the slight swerve I need to take to make it safely to the street and the ogling and picture-taking and the phantom elm that has been watching over us but is getting ready to move on.

I spent too much time researching the house today, read about it at TPR. But that is why you are only getting this today and nothing more important.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Returning to Writing and Classes Slowly but Surely...

Here is my new house:

[photo missing -- where did it go?]

The tree is just one of many surprises that the new house has wrought.

After it happened, the tree seemed to be a sign. Falling the morning that we were to move a bunch of our stuff in and directly between our house and the neighbor's, it said that we were in exactly the right place as opposed to it falling right on top of the house. We were grateful.  But perhaps the tree had more say in it. Perhaps the tree itself is the hero and not us, the stately old elm was valiant, protecting the house it had shaded for over 100 years.

This summer the sun has blared down on us, the house has felt unprotected and alone, we missed the tree dearly.

Adult writing classes return this month and next: Exercise class on September 25th, 7 - 9 pm and Write-in October 23rd, 7 - 9 pm. $15 each or a punch on your punch card... email Tina for details.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Sending a quick note from Israel. Wanted to let you know, I have a blog post on The Writer's Block!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Studio is Moving Locations!

Soon I'll be off on a trip far far away and when I return I am moving from a beloved old house to a spectacular new house. In the meantime, I have some limited classes scheduled in the studio. In July there will be classes scheduled in the new place and next fall, even more of them. If you are on the list, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, Teens can find me at Minneapolis' finest literary center if they wish. I hope you are writing. I hope I am writing. AND cheers to writing with you soon!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing Poetry in Nat's class

I got the opportunity to go to Nat's class' presentation of the poems they have been writing with a poet for the month of April. I think this writer was so smart to have the parents do a writing exercise. We slid into tiny little desks and were given a little paper and pencil and then she talked about us to our children. This is going to be hard for your parents. They are going to want to talk to their neighbor. I don't know what to write, they are going to whisper. And then she had us put our heads down. When we all looked around as if asking,  must we, really? She said yes. And we did and while we were there closing our eyes she had us dream because she said dreaming is necessary to the writing. She led us she had first read a poem by Mamaday. An 'I am' poem and had the kids talk about it (very intelligently I may add) and then led us though our dream having us imagine things that we might be, like a color or an object or a place and then when she was done, leading us through those thoughts she had us begin to write. There was no talking. It was after that that all the students read the poems that they had written over the course of the two week residency, or one week or whatever it was. When it was all over my daughter came and read my poem while I went to get a cup of coffee - no punch was served. She said, why did you say you were the color of a porch floor? You are not one of those old phonograph players. Haha. Hers was very lovely, of course.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Latest Permutation of Tina's Classes

Writing is a process, when you get to the end you will need to know how to begin again. Each moment you are matching yourself to the reader, you are matching yourself to the story, you are matching yourself to the moment and your own heart, your own interests. To make this difficult, our minds tend to be revolving billboards throwing up signs of fast food and quick cash, messages trying to direct you to the proverbial easy street, but you are not to heed them, you are to watch the road, watch how it rises to meet you. Some people would experience that as a bump, but not you, you know it is just an opportunity to practice. You relish it. This is the lesson of the ordinary in a world that says it wants the original. The world doesn’t know itself, what it really wants is you and your story; real, true and heartfelt.

So I have been trying different things around my studio to varying degrees of success. And what success and failure means is just how well do my plans and ideas match up with my people's needs. Like the circle of development a writer needs to follow, so too is the circle of development for a teacher. Below is the cycle the studio and I are trying on for size. I have a committed group of folks that I wouldn't want to change for the world. We are on the path together. They will let me know how this works!

This is what I know people need (for now anyway):

 One - a time committed to writing. This is always hard to do and especially when you haven’t been doing it for a while. Therefore they get a Write-in. Two hours of dominated writing. You will adhere to my schedule and you will be productive.

Two - they need exercise for inspiration. Right or wrong, your head gets into a groove. It can’t help it, the synapses fire again and again, digging ruts into your delicate brain. You have to shake things up in order to get out. Whether you need it or not, Exercise Class!

Three - you need people. Others who are trying to transform through words, just like you. One time a month is for chatting and partying, i.e. Writer's Social. There will be writing as well, but this is about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. Because you are bound to get all of the above. Then the next month, we start all over again.

Finally, I am instituting the punch card. Sign up for any single class for $15. Or buy any three for the low, low price of $40. Or even less expensive, buy 6 punches for $60. I will need to suspend my schedule from time to time. You might need to too. The thing is, I need you to make a commitment. The thing is, you need you to make a commitment too. My punch cards can be purchased through Paypal if that is easier for you(email me and I will send you a link), or otherwise come and buy them from me at the studio. For now I will set expiration dates on the cards for a year from purchase. I accept cash, check, or work in trade. What do you got that I need?

Find Tina's Studio Calendar in the sidebar to the right. Subscribe if you want to come to every single class. I have scheduled them through May for now.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Improv and writing. A list.

1. Practice the first rule of storytelling. Pleasing a reader means pacing with their expectations and then leading them to what comes next naturally from within the circle of your story. This makes your reader feel as if they are experiencing something real. Which leads directly to # 2.

2. Experience and react to the moment. No greater activity leads us into creativity more than mindfulness. You've been hearing how good it is for you. You are looking to start a mindfulness practice anyway. Improv is one way to do it. Be attentive to your reader, your story, and your thoughts. Speaking of thoughts, see # 3.

3. Have you lost your sense of purpose? Wondering what's the point anyway? This class reminds you why you wanted to write in the first place. We write to transform our reader. We write to transform the world. We write to transform ourselves. But the dilemma in this is we find the best results when we write for no purpose at all. Learn to write close to your fears. The key is process - that the journey is a kind of arrival. It may transform you, it may transform the world, but we are not attached to either outcome, we're really here to practice # 1.

And if the first Esher-like three reasons weren't enough, there are still reasons #4 and #5.

4. Get to know your voice. You are bound to find it in this exercise class. People keep pointing it out to you, it's your job to hear it. Learn what you do well. It turns out your ordinary, everyday voice is pretty extraordinary.

5. Fun. Yes, writing is a blast!

Three Wednesdays, January 16th, 23rd, 30th, 7pm - 9pm: $45

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Winter/Spring Teen and Youth Offerings in my Studio

Teen Bootcamp at the Loft: March 16th. Click here to register.

Monday Teen Writing Group 5 pm - 6:30. 12-14 year olds. (ongoing, space limited, interested writers can email Tina to apply) $90 per 6 sessions

Sunday Evening Writing Class: Youth 9 yo - 11 yo is from 4 pm - 5:30. Young Teen 12 yo - 14 yo is from 6:30 pm - 8. Kids are busy, so if this time seems tough and you are interested in classes for your kids, alternate time suggestions so very welcome!

Kids love this class. We take the page back! Playing and sharing and writing a lot. This is the antidote to rule-bound writing, the ideas flow and students are excited to put pen to paper.

February 3 - $15
March 3 - $15
May 5 - $15

Click through to my Buy Page and sign-up!