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Writing and the Dark Months

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. “ Henry David Thoreau

Today is the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year. A time when the sun

appears at the lowest point in the sky and seems not to move for several days before

and after the Solstice. Following the Winter Solstice, the days grow longer and the nights shorter.

Ancient Mother Earth, “our oldest ancestor, “ now rests. At the harvest and All

Hallow’s Eve, she has born new life to sustain life. Now, at the Solstice, she is

renewing, and dreaming and, "if we mirror her cycles, it is time for us to quiet our

lives and dedicate some time for our renewal, for reverie."(Jean Forest in Inner

Tapestry, 2003) This is the perfect time for writers to go inward. To renew the

Deep Voice and to dig down and harvest the words we have longed to share.

As Joan Borysenko says, in Pocketful of Miracles, “The Seasonal rhythms correlate

with our own body rhythms…. Our dream life and inner life grow more insistent in

the winter darkness…. The old year is put to bed, one’s business is finished, and the

harvest of spiritual maturity is reaped as wisdom and forgiveness.”


Sit back, and give into the darkness of the season.

Light a candle and study its glow. When you feel transformed, begin a piece, without

forethought or plan. Write like you talk, as Method Writing would call it. Write for

ten minutes without stopping. As you write, hear the darkness and quiet around

you. Take it in. Put it into words.



Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

© Mary Oliver

The sound of wild geese squawking and barking wakes me these days. Depending on my mood and the time of day, I am raised up or saddened by the sound that signals their departure. Autumn. Fall. Falling back. The loss of daylight hours. It’s the only time of the year when I feel a sense of wistfulness, an acute awareness of the passage of time. And it seems to be the central theme of every poem written about autumn. Yet, I don’t want to stay with this feeling. I prefer Mary Oliver’s response to the wild geese. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.”

Exercise: Spend a moment outside taking in the autumn air, listening to the sounds of the world around you. While outside, read aloud Mary Oliver’s poem and listen to the repetition of the sounds that begin with “meanwhile” and roll on and on. Jack Grapes calls this voice the “To Be Read and Sung” voice. “The voice Greek and Roman orators....the voice of the Old Testament and the Deep South; the voice that speaks to the multitudes, a voice that is meant to rouse and inspire.” Write your own prose poem about autumn using the repetition and rhythm in the Mary Oliver poem. Speak to the Multitudes. Offer your imagination to the world!!




Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.

Must ask permission to know and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner, copyright 1976

Path through the trees   Patricia Shea

To me, this poem is about artistic process, whether writing, acting, sculpting, or painting. To get in touch with our deep artist’s voice, we must stand still and open ourselves to receive. “Stand still…The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.” As terrifying as it may seem, we must be willing to allow ourselves to lose control and get out of the way. The creative process is mysterious, and, if we’re not careful our grown-up inhibitions will block our genius. Pablo Picasso said, “When I was a child, I could paint like a master, and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to paint like a child.”

Before you begin your work, create a sacred space around you. Whether it’s throwing salt over your shoulder, as Shakespeare did, or praying to Homer, as Stephen Pressfield does (see

The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield

), acknowledge, consciously, that you are beginning the task. In other words, ask permission to know and be known. By our words; by our characters; by our story. And then let the forest - the work - find us.

Exercise. Sit still, at your computer, or with your notebook open in front of you. Complete your ritual: ring the bell, light the candle, toss salt over your shoulder, put your Red Sox hat on your head. Shift into a state of hyper-awareness. Ask for the visitation of the powerful stranger. Empty your mind. Let the words find you.

And, check out

Chris Guillebeau’s Manifesto

for writers.

It should get your blood boiling!



Be Passionate, Be Revealing, Be Different.

I just saw a film called As It Is In Heaven. It is the story of a successful international conductor who interrupts his career and returns alone to his childhood village in the far north of Sweden. Soon after he arrives, he meets the local pastor who invites him to listen to the choir and give him notes; and then our hero asks to conduct the choir. And from that moment on, the village is in an uproar. The conductor is a change agent and all kinds of buried passions, resentments and hostilities emerge. The choir develops and grows. Marriages fall apart. Dogma collapses. And our hero finds love.

What is striking to me about the film is its central theme: We each have a unique voice and it is our job to find it. With help from others. Daniel takes the choir through all kinds of physical and vocal exercises to open the passageway to finding their voices. Little by little, each one finds his or her voice and, inevitably, their lives change. We watch them become more and more alive, cell-by-cell, until their growth threatens their set beliefs, their relationships and their way of life. Growth begets growth. When they decide to go to a choral contest in Innsbruck, Austria, we know something big is up. Many of them have never v

entured beyond their small Northern Swedish town. And, indeed, Innsbruck is a life altering experience, not only for them, but also for all their audience. And for our hero. Do take a look at the film.

And, once again, the theme of voice. I can guarantee that if you are willing to find your true voice, and to express it, your life will change.

Writing Exercise:

Write three pages in your journal, without forethought. Practice Beginner’s Mind – remain open to whatever the universe will deliver to you. Just as Daniel says in the movie, the music is there waiting for us to hear it. So, once written, read your pages aloud. And then see if you can hear the rhythm in them. Turn the words into a melody.