First, a few announcements this first Friday in June:
Summer writing classes at the Grotto are now open for enrollment. I’m excited about teaching a weekend workshop in August, on using existing models to craft short fiction. Check out all upcoming classes here.
I’ve started planning on another new class, Developing the Memoir, at UC Berkeley Extension this fall. Watch for details.
We’ve extended the deadline for the Summer Fiction Intensive at UC Berkeley Extension! Get that writing sample out this weekend to make the 6/10 cut-off! (Yes, the online catalog says 6/3, but it’s really 6/10 .)
What a treat it is to fall in love with a writer. Just discovered Elena Ferrante, whose novels now feel imperative. Finished My Brilliant Friend. The Lost Daughter coming up next.
And now, onto Traction:
The challenge of keeping a blog is, of course, keeping a blog. That is, posting regularly on topics we hope resonate with readers. Some weeks, the topic introduces itself—based on an event, an overheard conversation, a particular problem of the recent past. And other times, I think I’ll never again find anything remotely new to say.
So it’s with a wee bit of hesitation that I offer up a post once again drawing on … yoga. I can’t help it. Last night’s Upper Back and Shoulder Care workshop left me not only with happier traps but another nifty parallel to the writing life. So here goes:
We had lined up our mats, tied our belts to the wall ropes and cinched them to a 30-degree angle (which looked more than 45 degrees to me), lain down, and put our heads in the loop of the belt so that the taut belt “caught” on our occiput, which our teacher (Yoga Loft senior Iyengar instructor Anne Saliou) pronounced with a wonderfully French accepted final syllable. We then scooched our bodies slightly away from the wall, until the base of the skull pulled gently away from our necks. (Medical liability disclaimer goes here.)
It felt divine. Especially afterward, when we lifted our heads out of the belt (using our hands, not our just-relaxed neck muscles) and placed them on the folded blanket. And even more, when we sat up and registered a delicious, floating sensation. Not like being stoned; no, there was nothing “altered” about this state. Instead, it felt like a return to the alignment and lightness that we’re meant to feel when we’re not hunched over a keyboard or steering wheel all day.
But here’s the key. We didn’t sit up right away. Delicious sensation of lightness, yes, but not immediately. Transitions matter, Anne reminded us. Don’t jerk your body into movement right away. It is too harsh on the nervous system.
The transition she directed us through was intentional—and I could feel myself resist it. I knew that if I’d been at home, practicing head traction in my living room (with the belt attached to the doorknob), I’d have removed the belt, rolled properly to my side, and sat right up. I’d have enjoyed the sensation of the traction, but when the pose was over, I’d have moved right on. Time to start fixing dinner. Time for a load of laundry. Time for…whatever.
Transitions are the toughest part of writing. Not just transitions on the page—how we get from scene to scene, sentence to sentence, chapter to chapter—but transitions in the act of writing itself. I’m in one now. I just handed in 29 pages to my writers’ group, which means that when we meet next Tuesday, I’ll have feedback from them. Wednesday morning, I’ll have plenty to do as I go through their notes, make decisions, begin revising those 29 pages. But today? I’ve finished those 29 pages, so now what? I have a piece of journalism to start researching, I remind myself; I’ll spend the day on that, once I get this blog up.
The longer I’m away from the desk, the tougher the transition. Monday mornings, I struggle to get back into the groove of the week before, even I followed Hemingway’s supposed trick of ending a writing day with an unfinished sentence so you know where to begin the next morning.
And two-week vacations? It takes me days to find my way back. So it’s a little unrealistic to expect me to finish my most recent 29 pages of the novel on Thursday and immediately start working on a piece of journalism on Friday. Yes, I have an outline due in two weeks. Can I go from fiction to nonfiction just like that? Or should I let my head rest a bit on the folded blanket before I sit up?
My head feels lighter already.
How do you tackle transitions?