Mazes make me nervous. They seem to arbitrarily dead end and the design can feel like a cruel joke. I need to see the eventuality of the destination, otherwise, I am like a pinball stuck in a slot and no matter how many times the silver ball gets punched or rattled it follows the same path expecting different results.
Labyrinths, on the other hand provide a certain amount of security as the very idea of them is forward motion on a single path with the ultimate goal of reaching the center. At the onset of entrance to one, it becomes a meditative process rather than a traumatic feeling of entrapment. Security in knowing where I eventually will arrive, allows for proper thoughts on how to get there.
The first two months of the year have been something of a maze. Outcomes that I didn't necessarily expect have fueled several pivots. And yet, with the advent of spring, what once felt like dead ends now appear to be part of a complicated labyrinth that is guiding the aspects of my 2023 into a new beginning filled with opportunity.
Writing, Publishing, Teaching: moving through the various mazes of the work.
Gugel Alley Writers was born from what we like to call quietly accomplished writers. At 9:00 on any given Wednesday morning you can find a flurry of energy in the back room of Roebling Point Books in Newport, KY.
Like a trail in the woods lined by daffodils blooming in the early spring, we sit together in the circle. We muddle through the check in, the opening poem. Energy shifts and it feels as though we're rounding a bend in a high hedgerow and finding new ways to get to the center. We choose writing prompts as if we've come to four openings, each a choice that finds the journey's end. We write through the maze of our thoughts and collect them. When our words float in the airspace like butterflies in the wind and fall upon the ears of our compatriots, we come closer to the focal point. From there we are able to make sense of our stories, of our lives, of those around us.
Writing can be an isolating and lonely experience. Support from a good circle of friends can help to untangle thoughts that circulate and never seem to go anywhere. A writing group lends to discussion of issues, generative work, and paths to the core of your work. If you are in the Cincinnati area and are looking for an in-person group, join us some Wednesday and try it on. You may like it.
Gugel Alley Writers is an organic group with ebb and flow. The only commitment is showing up, writing, and discussing the challenges and benefits of the work as your time allows.
Kentucky Monthly Magazine has published a piece of my work in their Explorer section. The article highlights my hometown's connection to college basketball and the "Wizard of Westwood," John Wooden. I'm happy to elevate stories of Northern Kentucky.
Do you live in our area, or have some connection to the region? I'm always looking for stories to write and tell. Contact me and let's shine a light on some aspect of the area.
Let's talk a Little Craft
I've been plowing through a revision of an auto fiction project based on my parents' six short years together in the early 1950s. Here's the power of a group such as the Gugel Alley Writers. One morning, a writing prompt led me down a path to switch the point of view of one of the main characters, when I read my short piece to the group, eyes lit and it felt sacred, spurring me into a major rewrite.
This character now is alive with motivations. She is able to convey, in first person, so much of the inner workings, the history of her past, and it's impact on her present moment. In prior iterations, her character took no risks, had little investment in the actions around her. Now she drives so much of the story in the "I" of a present moment.
Special thanks to Matt Bell for writing Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts (https://www.mattbell.com/refuse-to-be-done). The book inspires me to refuse to be done until I know for certain that I've exhausted every avenue and the product is my personal best.
Developmental Editor: my work explained
This newsletter copy has been particularly difficult to put together. But, I'm a firm believer in staying open to possibilities and allowing things to come so that I can convey what is important. I've linked to an article that came across my newsfeed the other day that defines my work navigating stories with clients.
"Developmental Editor. Someone who fixes the big picture in a narrative, perhaps even finds the big picture. Someone who catches those digressions. Or, as defined at ziprecruiter.com, someone who “works with an author to define and improve the structure and content of a manuscript.""
The article is worth the quick read. I work with the stories that grace the pages of my clients' projects, born of lived experiences. Tenderness and compassion for the writer, the work, and life as a whole, must be part of my work. Long ago, when writing a revenge piece, I received a piece of advice: find ways to write that does not harm another person. If I can guide my clients to healthy perspectives about their work, bring them into focus then I have done the necessary work.
Impact of a Good Book
Once in a while, a book comes my way that impacts me in a deep way. Anywhere But Here, by Mona Simpson, 1986, is one such book. You can check out this and other books by her at: http://monasimpson.com/#anywherebuthere. The book was suggested, based on my own history. Now that I've finished it, pages are folded over, dog-earred, pencil marked, and noted in margins. It makes sense to me in terms of the experiences of the young, main character as it pertained to a mother who:
"...must have always wanted to live like this; from one perfect outfit to the next, nothing in between, every day crisp new clothes, nothing to be ashamed of, ever, anywhere." I also found in the exquisite, detailed writing a glimpse into the evolution of mother-daughter relationships. I will keep this one close as I write through the project about my parents' life together.
I'm also working through a non-fiction book called The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, Gabor Mate, M.D. and Daniel Mate, 2022. You can find more information here: https://drgabormate.com/book/the-myth-of-normal/,and as I always recommend, buy it at a local bookstore, please.
My writing colleague encouraged me to read it. One day, as we sat in our alcove of a bookstore, the bright sunshine and carnation pink design of the cover stared at me over my partner's chair. A purchase was made and I'm winding through the mostly academic aspects of the book, something I haven't done a lot of since finishing my degree in counseling. It's familiar and yet enlightening in a both/and sort of way.
Mate's work is well-researched. At one point in Chapter 10, on the impact of the world on a child during pregnancy, he writes: "Among researchers there is a 'universal consensus,' to cite a major review paper, that what are called the developmental origins of adult disease begin in the womb."
In reading this particular chapter, I think about my own introduction to the world. Conception on an August day, 1956. A moment of passion when doctors had told my father not to do anything strenuous. As I grow in my mother's body, my father slips away, dying on a cold, January day, 1957. My mother's story from then on, she didn't remember anything from then until I was born on a May day, five months later.
My writings these days, are filled with the nearly backward motion of reaching a dead end in a maze, only to retrace my steps to figure out a path forward.
Until Next Time
I'll leave you with this image of the road to Estes Park, Colorado. I've taken many roads and trails in my life, some have led to dead ends and some to the core of me.