Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fear and the Creative Life

I took the GRE last week and it went well. I did as well as I could have hoped after two months of studying. The week leading up to it, I put my writing and all other creative endeavors aside, knowing they would be there to return to when the GRE was (finally) over.

But a week later, and I am still frozen.

On the drive home from the test, I though with anticipation about all the things I could now freely focus on. I am busting at the seams with dreams for this community that wait only for me to act. I finally have a direction for the writing that needs to be done as part of my grad school application. I can start blogging with a little more frequency and regularity. But until this moment, I have not worked on any of those things.

Instead, I have binge-watched two seasons of United States of Tara and painted the bathroom. That is a lot to accomplish in one week's worth of free time, but it is not in the direction of my dreams.

I have all sorts of excuses for this. I'm just taking a break after all that studying! My brother was in town one of those days! My husband just started back at his teaching job!

But the truth is that I am finding any reason I can to avoid the work that only I can do, work that I love and find meaningful. I am avoiding it because I am afraid of it.

"Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear. Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all." - Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Fear seems to be a theme in my life lately, or rather, it always has been and I never knew it. Lately, I am just finally calling it what it is.

Fear & Anticipation by hartlandmartin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseby  hartlandmartin 

I believe that if I avoid my dreams, then I cannot fail at them. This is technically true, but it certainly doesn't make my life any more happy, whole, free, or courageous. It makes it more predictable and dull and safe. It makes me feel nice and comfy in my risk-free little corner where I may not be doing anything particularly remarkable, I may not be living up to and out of the fire that goes on burning wildly inside of me, but at least I am not a complete embarrassment to myself. At least no one else can see me living out loud and believing in myself and making mistakes and falling on my ass and getting back up again like some kind of daffy, resilient phoenix/cockroach (whichever you prefer). 


As I was painting the aforementioned bathroom a couple days ago, I listened to a podcast in which the woman being interviewed said this: "When bad things start happening, as they do to all of us, I can either go back to sleep and try really hard not to have bad things happen, and live a kind of safer, more protective life... Or I can really just step into this fire and say 'What have you come here to teach me? I want to grow more than I want to be safe. I want to be wise and happy and whole, so that I can help other people and be a source of goodness in this in this world-- if at all possible-- more than I want to be safe.'"

What would it be like for me to live as if I wanted to grow more than I wanted to be safe?  

A couple weeks ago a friend and I went to this sort of community meeting where people share their thoughts and experiences on a certain topic. The theme that week was failure, specifically failure as feedback. And I thought to myself, "I don't really have much to say about that."

But now here I am two weeks later, and the question that runs over and over in my head is "How do I get myself to move past my fear of failure?"

And I think the answer has something to do with this idea of seeing failure as feedback.

I think it has something to do with seeing failure as an opportunity to get better at the things we care about, rather than a statement that we are not good enough for them. I think it has something to do with acknowledging the fact that there are some things in life we simply must do, whether or not we succeed at them. I think it has something to do with embracing our fears, with leaping headlong into them knowing that the possibility for catastrophe is real and high, but that failure may actually be the best way to get where we really want to be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Women on Writing : Jamie Wright Bagley

Today I'm honored to share with you the thoughtful words of the lovely Jamie Wright Bagley. Jamie is a blogger and poet who has recently published a beautifully written little book of poetry entitled Book of Hours: In Shadow and Sun. As a perpetual doubter, I am grateful for how her book paves a way to engage with church tradition in such a gentle, refreshing, and non-triggering way. Download it now while it's still free! And be sure to check out the first six Women on Writing interviews here for lots more more writing practice wisdom. 


One thing I love about your book of poetry is that it provides a way to engage with traditional liturgical practices in a fresh and nontraditional way. What is your experience with the Liturgy of the Hours and what prompted you to look at it in a new way?

While familiar with the liturgy of the Book of Common prayer, and praying the morning and evening prayers, I am a delighted newcomer to the practice of praying the hours. I first discovered this grace within the pages of The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner, which I read at the start of this year.

I have a great deal of love and admiration for the concept of observing the hours, and I wanted to be able to do that in my own life. So I created an interpretation that made room for the faithful doubters and free spirits who need to believe God can handle our shadows, too.

How long have you been writing poetry? What is it that draws you to that medium in particular?

I started writing poems and song lyrics around the age of 11 or 12. I remember nearly knocking over my mom in my excitement to convey the news that I had written my first song. She responded as all good mothers do, with a little surprise and a lot of support.

As far as what draws me, I think my love of music, rhythm, the swaying of trees, symbols, and pictures behind words all play a part. Imagery is a form of communication that reaches me when mere words would fall flat. Poetry is a movement my soul can blend with- a place my mystic heart finds home. I can say what I truly feel, in a comforting, rhythmic way. It feels like I have an intimate connection to a universal heartbeat. It’s irresistible.

Image by Jennifer Upton

What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

My first reaction is to concoct the most grandiose vision my imagination affords. After some thought, though, I realize every time I am any place but my own small and simple home, I am far too busy gathering and storing new information to actually get any good writing done, except for the occasional but unreliable bursts of one or two inspired lines. I need an environment of sameness so I am not tempted to look anywhere but within, where the writing originates. For me, a cabin in the woods would be the ultimate distraction- I would spend my hours communing with nature and daydreaming myself into alternate dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it and I see the value of a quiet getaway and refilling the soul’s reservoir for creativity; that certainly is an important part of the whole process. But in my personal experience, real writing occurs as a part of real living, embracing and drawing inspiration from everyday events and the discipline of habit.

For now, I usually sit on my bed with my laptop. I have to make good use of nights and weekends because there is no such thing as getting up before the kids. We live in close quarters so there is no withdrawing from their presence, but I have learned to take full advantage of any moments my children are occupied.

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

The answer to this would probably have to be a series of blog posts. There are so many foundational voices influencing and inspiring my words. I am most recently taken with writers such as Madeleine L’Engle, Richard Rohr, Christine Paintner, and Julia Cameron. Their experience as Christian mystics informs and mirrors my own experience, and I’m grateful for the kinship I feel through their works.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers what would it be?

Starve your excuses. Any and all of them. If you truly want to write, it’s worth the risk of wholehearted action and devotion- right now! There will always be something to eat your time, but don’t buy the lie that you haven’t enough. You can carve out a few seconds here or there to practice. And all writing is practice. It’s the act of showing up, building habits, giving voice to your dreams. Don’t wait. Live your dream today.


Jamie Wright Bagley lives in Chicagoland with her husband and 3 children. She spends her days wearing an assortment of hats, from writing, to coaching, to caring for her free-spirited offspring. She believes housework is a sometimes thing, and once you get to know her, you’ll find the way to her good graces is through endless cups of tea and large helpings of pie. She purposes to create hope and delightful expectation through poetry, writing, and contemplative practices, encouraging others to grow and flourish. As a Story Unfolding trained coach, her heartbeat is to equip fellow writers to believe in and build their projects. You can find more of her words at her blog, engage her as a story coach at The Story Unfolding, or follow her on twitter.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When free work might cost someone

The High Calling is hosting a link-up about Working for Free, which I found through a post by Esther Emery. It's a topic that I've been mulling over in my head a lot lately. I didn't mean to get involved, but then I did. 


It's been nearly two years since I've had a paying job, by which I mean it's been nearly two years since my life hasn't revolved around when my son eats and sleeps. When I decided to quit my job to care for him, I was prepared for the fact that I would no longer be bringing in an income, and I haven't, not a single penny.

My blogging habit began recreationally, a free way to satisfy my over processing mind. But as is the case with creativity, the more you do it, the more you have to do it.

Over time my compulsion has even blossomed into other habits. In addition to writing, I now spend time collaborating with other writers, helping to manage content for a community blog, and facilitating a support group for a small but growing community of doubters. All of this I do for free, because I like it, I have the time for it, and I don't need the money. This is a huge privilege, one I am thankful for.

But recently, a new project has fallen into my lap. I see a need for what I am creating and feel compelled to fill it. It will take more time and energy than any of my endeavors so far. Even so, the truth is, I could get away without charging for it.

And the question I can't seem to get out of my mind is not should I do this work, or even will it succeed? The question is how much do I value the time and energy and gifts of myself and others doing this type of work?

Hard Work (Vicios I) by Eneas, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Eneas 

I may have the luxury of offering my work for free, but not everyone does. There are people doing the kind of work I am hoping to do who are hustling each and every day to support their families without sacrificing their dreams. What does it say, not only about me and my work, but also about others' and theirs, when I offer up a product or service for free? If someone who would otherwise spend money to hire an editor or take a class or even purchase a book goes with my free option instead, might I be partially responsible for those lost dollars?

These questions or not simple to answer, but neither are they to be taken lightly. When I consider whether or not to work for free, I must consider not only the value of my own work, but also how my attempts to do good may deprive others of the support needed to do theirs.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Fear (Thoughts on Being an Enneagram Six)

Fear sounds like scurrying,
like the scritch-scratch of the mouse within the wall,
franticly working, 
burning the midnight oil unseen.

Fear sounds like the crackling of the dying fire, 
like leaves and twigs and ash, 
smoldering together with a sizzle sizzle, 
waning but never going out because

Not even when the baby dozes and the man you love holds you in bed with his arms wrapped around you and his legs intertwined with yours.

Even then fear is curled up in the corner with a flashlight, making the swoosh peck sound of pen against paper.*


In the Enneagram, a centuries old system of personality typing, each of the nine types has its own "vice" and virtue. The vice of type Six is fear. 

Funny how I never would have called it that. Even reading the type description, in which every other word fit me like a glove, the word "fear" felt distinctly unfarmiliar. "Easily stressed," I might have said, or maybe "prone to worry." I wouldn't have even called it an anxiety problem, because I know people with those and I handle my worst case scenarios quite calmly, thankyouverymuch. 

No matter that I daydream regularly about what I would do if my husband died or I got cancer or had a miscarriage or lost my mother or crashed the car or on and on and on. "A vivid imagination" is what I would have called it, not a life spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. "A realist" is what I would have called myself, not a woman driven by fear. 


Three rabbits by dicktay2000, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  dicktay2000 
"Here I am, a rabbit hearted girl
Frozen in the headlights...
I must become a lion hearted girl
Ready for a fight"

-Florence and the Machine 


Sixes, I soon learned, come in two types: phobic and counter-phobic. Some Sixes are clearly one or the other, but many alternate between both. 

Funny how I knew this about myself but could never explain it. I would have told you I was just a paradox, the classic good girl, with a rebellious streak. 80% "Like me, affirm me, approve of me," 20% "Screw you, I do what I want." 

But it turns out that I am really just terribly afraid, and my "goodness" and "rebelliousness" are nothing more than two sides of one security blanket.  


Lately I find myself dreaming about moving to Alaska, a thought that fills me with both dread and excitement. The idea was triggered by a casual mention to my husband about a Creative Nonfiction program in Fairbanks, which he refused to forget and now I can't seem to either.

I go back and forth between thinking life there would be adventurous or insane. It would be a hard life, for sure, with a much higher cost of living, and months of near constant darkness, and unimaginable cold.

Aurora 15 October 2010 by mmmavocado, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  mmmavocado 
And I can't help but wonder why it is that I, a self-proclaimed beach lover, find myself so fixated on Alaska of all places. Why not Hawaii or Oregon or even Maine?

I could talk a big talk about the natural beauty, about the forests and moose and aurora borealis.

But the truth is that the challenge of Alaska calls to me, even comforts me. The truth is I like my dreams with a side of adversity. Safety is the most dangerous thing of all. There is far too much to lose.

*This section was inspired by a prompt in the Story Sessions community.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Free : Six Months In

A couple months into the year, I thought I might get a tattoo of my one word, free, on the back of my neck. But then a couple months later, I thought, no no that's not right. Then, I thought I would get a key there instead, something a little more symbolic and open-ended, like my other tattoos. But lately I have been thinking, no no that's not right, that's not right. I will have to wait. That just isn't it.


When I first started living as if I were free, it destroyed me so beautifully I thought it could be my word for life. But now I'm starting to realize that free really is just the key. It opened the lock which had bolted the door which then slowly cracked open further and further until it hung wide open. I have stood there for a long time now, staring into the open space, looking out and knowing in my head that I am free, letting the fact of it take my thoughts where they may, whispering it to myself over and over and over again. I am free I am free I am free.

Deep in the woods by Isengardt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Isengardt 
But I am still living in the cage, because the key is not enough. As long as the door is unlocked, you are technically free, but you also have to walk through it. I thought I had done this, leaving church and all, I thought I had ran out the door as soon as it swung open, but I had not.


What if I stopped living as if everything I did and thought was inherently flawed? What if I started living as if my simple, wild soul was one little piece of a giant puzzle? What if I started surrendering myself to the shape and location of my own piece, rather than jamming and tearing it to fit where it would not?


The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage, 
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the 



What matters most, is not that I am free, but what I am free for. Opening the door is one stage of my life, but the world outside is the rest of it. I already have one foot out the door now, but where I am headed is still glorious Mystery.

What if, when I finally emerge from the cage, I ignore the tracks set before me? What if I refuse to place one foot here and one foot there as always, like a child following her mother in the snow? What if I turn my back on both paths diverging in the woods, and instead grab a hatchet, blazing my own trail by the light of my soul? What if I make a thousand tracks in the wrong direction, but get to see things I never would have glimpsed otherwise?

And what if I stray so far from the path that I am given up for lost? And what if my hidden, meandering trail allows me to traverse the woods completely unseen by the gatekeepers and rule makers and line drawers of the world? What if I return to the cages by the haze of moonlight and start dropping keys?