The Bakkum Gallery Series

The Bakkum Gallery Series was performed at a reading on a lovely sunny weekend in mid October 2018. At the invitation of artists, Marina Pronk, and Sabrina Tacci, I read aloud these poems to an audience of artists, musicians, friends, patrons and passersby from the street. The old brick house at Van Oldenbarneveldweg 32 seemed to transcend into the unseasonably warm autumn sun. There was a special kind of air around; the kind of air that the bricks and glass and echoing walls seem to be made for; the kind of air that shapes events into memories.

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The importance of knowing what you want

All creative journeys begin with a touch inspiration and a are filed on by tons of hard work. Sometimes, the initial heartfelt spirit of a creative endeavor can be quickly overshadowed by an overwhelming anxiety. Overthinking tasks, and feeling the stress and burnout of emotional and physical energy required to fuel our creative seeds, (particularly when we are following the path of a desire to write and record a story). Writing is a labor of love, with potentially zero payoffs. A time consuming and sometimes obsessive venture that battles our very best judgments, time management, money, sleep, and self-esteem. The consequences of our choice to write that book we’ve been dreaming about requires adherence to work habits and the narrow avoidance of being entrapped by comparison to our peers and mentors and worshiped literary idols.

We look at the blinking cursor on the screen and unravel at the notion that we might not have what it takes to complete the project. How can we avoid that fateful easy to slip down the slope, straight into the den of self-sabotage, where all our well-intentioned dreams go to die.

Knowing what you want and reminding yourself of your goals and accomplishments on a regular basis might just keep you from falling into the unhealthy habits that lead into an uncreative rut.

When someone I really care about asks me, “Hannah what do you really want?” I tend to feel stumped by this question. In my personal and work relationships, I am usually the one asking others “What do you really want?” As a writing coach, I this question as a prompt to help my client remember why they are going forward on this creative journey. What happens when we are asked by others, or even better, ask ourselves, “What do I want out of this experience/situation/relationship/life?

The question of “what do you really want?” Is easy to ask and hard to answer, even as I have been busy helping others achieve their dreams. The first answer is “I don’t know what I want.” Which is sort of a thinly veiled response for: “I don’t know what I deserve.” People feel put on the spot for even having to verbalize their own magnificent desire. The challenges of adulthood bring most people to a point where they feel like it isn’t going to happen. Yet the challenges of adulthood also prove, that it is important to give it a shot, even if you end up with not much to show for the hard work.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a catastrophic event, like divorce, the loss of a job, loss of a loved one or a near-death experience, to really prompt that life-changing questions into motion. There are countless examples of people who come to a crossroads and are in fact forced into the question of: “What do you really want?” 

  • Do I want a sense of oneness with the universe?
  • Do I want a more fulfilling relationship with my family or significant other?
  • Do I want more satisfaction with my job/career/business/creativity?
  • Do I want to feel more confident around others or within myself?
  • Do I want to take better care of myself physically/recover from an illness/become more physically fit or have more balanced nutrition?

When I think about all the ways I wanted to better my life, and what I have to show for my accomplishments, it’s hard to rectify our little expectations with our big reality. There is a pressure coming from within me to fix all the problems at once. I have been in situations where I felt that the areas where I felt lacking in my life seemed to meld into one giant cloud of anxiety and confusion. This cloud of anxiety pulls us in and leads us to be attracted to things that would help us into temporary or even long-term escapes. These temptations are real and they are tied to deep fears of inadequacy. The last thing we want to do was examine my own shortcomings, or be present with dark, sad, angry feelings.

So here we find the cycle of the writing life. Sometimes the very thing that pulls us down into despair, the sensitivity to the fragility of life, the awe of the world around us; is the very thing that will pull us out of our grief, and into a connection with the world.

Most of us begin our adult lives with a strong sense of what we want and who we want to be, then the trials of adulthood hit hard, life experiences and circumstances come, seemingly out of nowhere, to challenge all aspects of who we thought we were or what we thought we wanted in life. 

It seems that everyone comes around to this reckoning sooner or later, and for some, it is easy to feel defeated by the uncharted circumstances or situations that life brings. It is also easy to look around at a room full of people, and think that you’re the only one who doesn’t have their shit together. 

We all have someone in life that we look up to, envy, idolize or revere, as setting a standard for our own work. We look for the stories (sometimes unconsciously) unfolding on our friends facebook pages, on the glossy pages of vanity magazines, airbrushed sexily on a billboard, deep within the pages of our favorite books, or flashing across the screens of our new favorite TV series.

We spend our life feeling cynical, depressed, inadequate, self-doubting, anxious and self-loathing because we can’t live up to the images and narratives that we allow to flood into our heads. We struggle to rectify the things we absorb in the fabricated world of social media, and the real-life playing out before us… opening the door to the chronic dissatisfaction that our era seems to be making a reputation for. 

We accept more work, longer hours, less time with our families and loved ones with the idea that the hard work is going to pay off in droves, once we make it past a few goal markers. There are a lot of messages out there in the world, telling us to work harder, to set goals, to make plans, to get ahead, to compete for the things you want, to strive forward toward that perfect ideal of health, wealth and wisdom waiting on some distant cloud in the future. 

Some people feel conflicted when they pass through they seek those golden eggs of inspiration, only to encounter the hard work waiting on the other side: the distractions, faulty plans, missed connections and the ever creeping monster of self-doubt coming in to spoil every good intention, cutting us making us feel defeated, sometimes before we even begin the monumental tasks of simply living by our own truth.

There is an old cliche that it takes great mental instability to create great art. An artist has a bit of a masochistic death wish; to see the truth of life one must have the aptitude to ride through the waves of insanity, all the emotional turmoil, going up and down on doses of self-importance and recognition, followed by bouts of depression and self-hatred.

But there is a silver lining. The most important thing to do, when you feel the creeping sense of self-doubt is to take care of your body. Drop this idea that you must attain some perfected version of yourself. Be about your feelings without pushing them away or hiding from them or losing them in the false narrative of what the world says that life is about. 

Go back to what YOU want for yourself establish a clear idea of what you really want, even if your self-critical mind thinks it is far-fetched or unattainable. Don’t believe anyone who says they have it all figured out, they’re probably lying to you, or worse, lying to themselves. Those same folks who appear to be on top of it all, the perfect careers/finances/attitudes/bodies/creative productivity is probably deep within their own internal battles.

Know what you want, and write what you know. This simple truth can wake us back up into our inspiration. Telling stories and producing great, authentic, creative work is driven by our innate human need to feel interconnected to our community. Us humans have an insatiable appetite to find meaning, love, connection, and reliability in all aspects of our life.

Dealing With The Mixed Blessing of Social Media and the Demanding Presence of Technology

If you are a creative or sensitive person, you know this feeling. Technology creeps ever more closely into every single aspect of our lives. With every click or swipe or like, we put our human fingerprint on the digital universe. We live and socialize by our screens, letting the hours melt away in content detachment from the quickly passing lives. Even the internet slang acronym “IRL” meaning “In Real Life” seems to suggest that we have this duality of existence. One is the avatar we create in the digital world, and the other is the living/breathing person that still has needs;  food… water... physical contact… exercise…shelter… work. There are also a great many of us who feel that some kind of artistic expression is also part of their natural human need, as well as spending some time outside in nature.

A recurring theme that has been discussed in my writing coaching sessions and within the Weeds & Wilderness Meet-up group, is the often confusing role of social media and continuous exposure to technology plays within the creative life. Everyone seems has a very individual relationship with social media and how they involve technology in their everyday lives.

Many artists, writers, and musicians like me, rely on media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, youtube and Spotify, and personal websites to sell their music, communicate with a fan base or viewers, discover new opportunities, network for jobs, meet new people, date, get directions, pay bills, work, earn a living. Your media platform is the face you put to the world, having a poorly setup website is kind of like wearing your pajamas to work, you might be amazing at what you do, but if you show up looking messy and unkempt, people might perceive you as unprofessional.

Technology can also be the greatest tool for inspiration or the greatest distraction. What may begin as a simple google search can suddenly become a youtube video extravaganza, leaving crucial creative or work hours squandered into wasted time. The flashy screen, with its algorithms priming us like helpless addicts. The internet is the perfect tool for stress avoidance. It takes our bad days and sorrows and anxieties and whisks us away into another plane of existence. We humans naturally crave comfort in times of stress and it takes huge truckloads of self-discipline and self-reflection to get away from distractions, and re-connect with our creative influences and begin to really work toward those creative goals.

On the flip side of inspiration is disconnection. It is easy to go on social media and look at snippets of other peoples lives and begin to fall into comparison. We others who seem like they are cruising through their beautiful experiences; making our real lives, seem small, insignificant and boring. It’s easy to forget that social media is an illusion

When we live our lives in comparison to social media standards, we can begin to feel anxious, that we are somehow not enough. We start telling ourselves that we will never be as good as our idols, and this can lead us to some dark places. In a state of comparison, we see darkness, irritation, lack and disgust with our own shortcomings. We get frustrated and feel ignored by a world that is already saturated with beauty. We think: “What’s the point of being creative when there are so many others who are better at this than I am.” 

These dark thoughts and feelings quickly turn into inaction. We feel overwhelmed with the idea of living up to the impossible or illusionary social standards and we sabotage our own success, feel doubly guilty for letting go of our dreams and goals. It’s difficult rut to recover from. The feelings of self-doubt get deeply embedded within our psyche

I’ve had to learn that self-acceptance means accepting with some of the dark feelings like; fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, anger, ill health, mental imbalance, and all kinds of other dissonant conditions. It takes a lot of uncomfortable self-reflection to re-route your mental habits away from self-abuse. It takes a willingness to risk coming out of the default comfort zone, to see beyond the present circumstances and into greater possibilities. The process is also counterintuitive because we naturally want to protect ourselves from vulnerability. In the days of the caveman, early humans learned to hide vulnerability to stay alive. If you showed vulnerability, the lions/snakes/neighboring villages would come get you. Humans had to be strong, healthy and confident in order to survive a harsh winter or impress a mate to ensure future generations.

Fear and anxiety come directly from the survival instinct, and sometimes, in order to move forward, we have to call on other instincts to override the feelings that make us want to run away or give up. If we can sit with and acknowledge our loneliness, anxiety, fear, and incompleteness; we can better appreciate the moments of contentment, balanced health, special time with friends and loved ones or even an afternoon of fair weather, or most importantly, focus our minds for producing creative work.

Social media can be our greatest tool, but it can also be our greatest weakness. Social media can build our business or ruin our reputation. Social media can connect us with the people we love, or pull us into battles we don’t want to fight. Social media can inspire us out of a creative rut, or it can enable our avoidance for important movements forward.

So, what should a creative person do when they feel overwhelmed or isolated by the fluctuating relationship with social media? Here are some options:

  • Take some time to log out. Choose a day when you can unplug all day, and take a survey of what you have done. Revisit old journals or things that you have done before. Remind yourself of what you are capable of.
     
  • Ask yourself what you really want from your life. Write down a list of your goals in detail, and focus in on the steps you need to do to achieve them. Make those steps a part of your daily/weekly routine.
     
  • Get outside the normal routine. Seek out new experiences or try new activities. Go for a walk in a town you’ve never been to before. With your camera/sketchbook or journal, and record what you see. Life experiences fuel creativity. You may get some new insights, or see the world differently, just by paying attention to the small details.
     
  • Meet people face to face and show them or tell them about your work. 
     
  • Reach out to leaders and experts who inspire your field of interest, and ask them questions about their artistic process. You may not be surprised that their journeys and questions might be similar to your experience. 

If some of your mentors (like mine) were alive centuries ago, visit the books and artworks they created. Think of it as their special gift to you; they are expecting you to be inspired and they will be flattered that you are creating something new out of inspiration from what they created in their lifetime.

The most important piece of advice is, take ownership of your own voice and choices. Remember that inevitably only you can speak for yourself. As a writing coach, I can help lead aspiring writers down the right path, but I will never truly be able to know what is best for everyone. We are our the experts on ourselves and what we think is best. The ultimate gift that all creative artists can give the ability to convey your own unique perspective to the world.

The Artful Procrastinator

I have always been a bit of a daydreamer. At least that's how I have always seen myself. I didn’t do particularly well in school. It wasn’t that I lacked intelligence or interest in my studies. I would attend class and attentively listen to my teachers and try my best to understand what was taught. But when it came time to demonstrate my newly acquired knowledge or complete a carefully constructed assignment. I would put off completion until the very last moment, choosing instead to get lost in my own world. I would read only books that truly interested me.

I was a poet from the onset, obedient and observant to the outside world, but willfully determined to create my own inner landscape, filling myself in with words, literature, artistic sensibilities, art, friendship, favorite movies nature, travel, and not a lot else. I wholeheartedly indulged in my own fantasies and was often willfully ignorant of what my teachers and parents thought I should be learning.

As I grew into a teenager, and my inner world began to be bombarded by increased adult responsibilities and increased emotional anxiety. Like many American children of the 80’s and 90’s, my parents' divorce was the impetus of many of my childhood grievances. Growing up in a broken home, while there was plenty of love and togetherness, and my parents absolutely did the best they could with what they had; there were many times when I felt lost in the dramatic episodes of split family life. I was a lonely kid and I felt like I had to hide my pain and sadness. I used writing as an outlet for my heartache, mostly through journaling, art, and poetry.

When I was a teen, there was a huge chasm between the way I articulated myself to others, and the thoughts and ideas I wrote down in my diary. I began to withdraw from the pains of family life and put more of myself onto paper. My artistry became an avoidance technique. I used writing to protect myself from the harsh pains of growing up. I was a sensitive and empathetic child growing into a sensitive adult. I was easily overwhelmed with the heated emotions of others and took those techniques out into the world with me when I left home for college.

My infatuation for poetry and literature and my propensity to procrastinate grew up hand in hand. Reading and writing poetry led me to a deeply romanticized sense of reality. I could be easily enchanted by ideas, philosophies, people, and places. I was also easily distracted and found it difficult completing tasks or work I felt was too hard or uninteresting. I avoided uncomfortable social situations and found myself easily overwhelmed by large crowds or events. I even found myself giving up close relationships and friendships when they became too hard or complicated. I was the type of person that could walk away and withdraw into my sad made up the world.  

In my 20s I had intense visions of myself in an idealistic future. I was optimistic I was going to be a great writer, a world traveler. A well-versed performance poet, a scholar, a theologian, a women's’ rights activist, painter and spiritual intuitive, and everyone was going to like me. I was going to plow through obstacles and inhibitions that stood in my way. I was surging with overconfidence and crippling self-doubt at the same time. I was also the type of person that would crumble at the first sign of rejection. I boldly sent my poems to a long list of paying literary magazines and then folded at the canned rejections. I sweat over some MFA applications and artist residences and relished in my horror as the world refused to catch onto my cool eloquence. I was gleeful and dismayed at the same time. Essentially, I had no idea that I had no idea who I was.

I marched into my MFA graduate program with my head held high and graduated four years later, with barely a dream and a song to count for. I had stacks of poems and a memoir manuscript that were strong in words but weak in ambition and courage. During graduate school, I began to cave under the shoddy walls of my romantic idealism. I caved at the criticism of my peers and the high standards of my professors. I shied away from big opportunities on the notion that they would probably be emotionally overwhelming and I would probably be shitty at them anyway. I secretly envied my colleagues and cowered in front of high caliber authors, whom I occasionally met on book tours. I also faltered in my mediocre teaching position. I resented most of my students (save for a few) and balked at the pointlessness of teaching the art of writing to unwilling and uncaring undergraduates.

I left graduate school in a shell of depression and confusion and mistrust for the whole collegiate academic system. I felt unprepared for the pressures of adulthood, balancing financial independence, career, practicality, hard work, motivation, self-care, relationships, ideas about the future. I felt dismayed and blameful of the world that had raised me. How could I have been seduced into the romantic notions of getting an expensive degree in Poetry, how and why did I think that was a viable idea that would make me a successful person at work and in life. I ended graduate school with these feelings and thus, let self-doubt slip into my daily routine, and went forth allowing myself to be filled in by anything other than the painful truth of the artwork I had once passionately wanted to create. I felt burnt out and disappointed by the fallibility poetry, and I put away my dreams into an unknown future.

There is a very specific type of anxiety that comes with trying to write well. Writing requires me to understand myself and the nature of my own feelings before I can march forward with my career and my productive hours of penning and typing. I needed a lull in my enthusiasm for writing to understand how the mind was getting get caught in the trap of self-sabotage. I had let the emotional wear and tear overwhelm me to the point of no return. I had managed to emotionally separate myself from writing, the thing I loved most, the thing I used to be the best at. I had to see and know how my own thinking was killing my inspiration. I had to feel not good enough or I had to feel failure, in order to begin the process of healing. The process of re-alignment with the true self can take a whole lifetime to undertake. I was caught in a perpetual depressive state and I let it steer me far away from what I truly wanted. I had to put precious creative seeds, poems, journals, rough drafts away in storage. In order to reconnect again with myself and my ambitions. Writing had become associated with the emotional challenge, and I wasn’t yet willing to encounter the deep sadness that had discouraged me.

After graduate school, I did very little writing turned my attention to the people and things around me. I got a job working with teens and children. I adopted a dog, I got married, I spent lots of time with family and friends, I spent time traveling and enjoying the outdoors. I learned how to meditate, I learned to cook, I read lots of books, I went to therapy and I also spent a lot of time feeling guilty about not writing.

It took a lot of rapidly changing life circumstances to come back around into a place where I was ready to be productive again. The slide started with some personal health crisis, a stint in the hospital for kidney stones, followed closely by a knee injury requiring major surgery and a long recovery time. Soon after my surgery, I lost my beloved dog to bone cancer, and not long after that, my husband took a work opportunity and I gave up my beloved nanny job. My husband and packed up our entire life, said goodbye to everything we once knew, and I moved to a new continent. While I welcomed my new situation, I was still recovering from the radical changes my life had gone through over the previous year’s time. I was having a crisis of physical body, putting on extra weight, and sinking into a depression over what next steps to take with my life. I didn’t embrace orienting myself in a new culture, I felt overwhelmed by learning a new language, making new friends and meeting new people. I sunk into myself. I rode the wave of procrastination all the way to the rocky cliffs. I distracted myself with visiting friends, weekend trips to Italy and Helsinki and Prague and spent long lonely weekdays in sad self-loathing, tiredness, depression, TV, tears, self-misery. I was terrified of trying to find work I longed to see myself in a position of professionalism and success, but I was also convinced that I had already missed out, I was convinced that potential employers would see me as a failed artist and immediately dismiss me for a better, more qualified candidate. I grieved over missing my friends, the little boys I took care of and beat myself up over thinking that I abandoned them. I even picked fights with my mother over e-mail and itched with contempt when I could feel my far away family worry about me, and wonder how I was getting on. I even at this low point, I wasn’t yet ready to forge ahead into my new writing self. I tried, I scratched a few stories here and there, but it was hard. I dug into my self-blame, I beat myself up for wasting a lot of beautiful time feeling scared and lonely and depressed. I hid away my blues and spent a lot of time not wanting to wake up in the morning.

After a few months of hovering around my self-doubt, I got pregnant and miscarried at 8 weeks, got pregnant again a month later and miscarried a second time again at 8 weeks. The roller coaster of joy, sadness, stress, depression and hormonal free fall all within that 5 month period was completely unbearable. I was already on shaky ground emotionally, and when the second miscarriage hit, I hated myself and my life in a way I never had before. I found myself in a state of intense depression, and barely saw a day where I couldn’t cry or totally detach. I had come so far and in a beautiful apartment in the city center of Amsterdam, I could barely make it out of bed. My brain was a mix of rollercoastering hormones, grief, self-doubt, confusion, heartache, and longing for the simplicity and confidence of a me that I thought had never and would never exist. I was saddened by the thought that the idealistic and expectant dreamer I was in my 20s would be disappointed with the confused, depressed, and now, failing to sustain life in my body. Who was this self-loathing person I saw in the mirror before me at 35? My 35-year-old self, in turn, hated my 20-year-old self for getting wrapped up in the romanticism of life and allowing herself to be seduced by the notions of beauty and poetry as a good career choice.

As I laid on the couch, hating myself binging on everything that my poor mind and soul could find, I wallowed in anger and sorrow and bitterness and for the first time, I truly didn’t care. I stood face to face with the pointlessness of life and genuinely asked myself if it was worth it. “What do you want Hannah?” My therapist asked me. I didn’t know and hated myself for not knowing. The question burned into me. The not knowing myself and what I want had burned into me because it seemed to represent my failure as an artist and as a person. I was angry at the world that I was trying to help and understand, I was angry at myself for not having it all together. In society, we praise and envy the people that seem to be winning at life. We envy the people who have the right words and ways to power through life with resilient ease, grace and gusto, and self-honesty. We hate ourselves for falling short, for not living up to the beautiful standards, that perfect cream and sugar added to bitter, black coffee. It’s that perfect Instagram filter that takes away the harsh blemishes and weird lighting and double chin.

So what now? Now comes the arduous task of rolling back into the state of the living. My procrastination has become a device which no longer serves me. The full on half of all creative writing activity is over, and I have to turn back to it as a form of survival.  Now comes the weeks of therapy and ripping off the band aid of self-delusion. Now comes the drilling in of what my life will be about, the figuring out of what I want for myself, the halting of temptation and ease that comes with taking care of everyone else ahead of myself. Now comes the work of tuning out distractions, and tuning into the radical truth of who I am and what I want. As I have found, climbing out of the whole is easy when you are ready. It takes being able to sit with the uncomfortable feelings for long enough to just let them taper out. It takes a little bit of self-awareness, a little bit of exposure in the form of honesty, to own up to those dark feelings, to face the critics inside and out and not be defeated by them. When the feelings are out in the open, they begin to dissipate.

Now is the time where I start making a passionate investment of time and emotional energy into creating something beautiful, regardless of its emotional weight or potential rejection.  Now is the time to follow the cheesy motto “Do It Anyway, even though it’s scary, even though it hurts.” My inner critic is sly, sophisticated, mean, tricky, self-deprecating. She is always looking for a line of reasoning to stop me in my tracks. She wears me out daily by moving the goal post, turning on the TV, telling me that I am too tired, or that I really should do the dishes instead of writing poetry. My inner critic maintains the baseline of fear, regret, comparison, jealousy, overwhelmedness, failure, dissatisfaction, blame and worst of all, self-pity. My inner critic plays the procrastination game hard core. My inner critic is not my enemy, she is also protecting me, keeping me alive, questioning my judgment, editing my work, and checking me on my runaway romantic delusions. She is also forgivable, and without her, I cannot be a whole thinking imperfect human being.

Originally setup to protect us from predators and bad weather and starvation, anxiety is now in the business of distracting us from putting our hearts on the line. Modern society gives us all the beautiful conveniences like food, shelter and love and social validation. When we feel secure, we begin to imagine ourselves as being more creative, letting our hearts sing, writing down our thoughts, and putting our ideas and experiences into shareable formats. Humans have an amazing capacity to create their environment into art. To self-reflect on their past and visualize a romantic future. We have a unique ability to create and portray fictional characters that we can love or hate just as readily as any human being. We do a lot with our minds and bodies. Creativity is an emotional act. Procrastination is one way for our own brain to protect itself from emotional vulnerability.

Since many of us sensitive folks have discovered the art of art making as a way to process our feelings, we are also deeply susceptible to rejection or limitless self-criticism. When we are afraid, our built in mechanism is to rationalize away our fear with excuses, distractions, unconscious habits, avoidance tactics, irrational comparisons, tv, computer and phone screens and worse, our own negative logic. The brain tricks us out of creative output by latching on to easy distractions like conversations with our partner, meals, chores, sunshine.

We invent excuses and tell ourselves we aren't good enough, not creative enough, not eloquent enough, not young enough, don't have the time, energy, productive spirit, knowledge, wisdom, experience, legal right, motivation, plot points, character development or life experience to complete the project that we’ve been dreaming about our whole lives.

The truth is, that we're mostly right about ourselves. That is to say. Once we start down the path of self-sabotage, the things we fear most about ourselves begin to manifest in our habits. Self-criticism and wounded self-esteem lead us to abandon hope and become depressed and become the very thing that we are afraid of becoming. Amid all of the silly invented excuses, we sometimes hit on nerves so deep that they will stop us in our tracks for weeks, months or even years, like an abandoned factory that has been sitting for years, collecting dust and ghosts.

The other truth is, that most master craftsmen (and women) of any trade, don't really have their shit together either. The one difference might be their level of commitment and focus. Just like an Olympic athlete, we need a sharp schedule, a sense of motivation, a strong stomach and a good coach, and a willingness to produce shitty work until it starts to smell like gold.

Be willing to write it all down, be willing to fill pages of crap in your journal or onto your word processor. The best writing comes when there is no expectation that it will ever be the best or even see the light of day. Write until you get to the end. Show it to anyone who is willing to read it, listen to their reactions and be willing to start it all again if you need to. Don't throw it away, just keep moving through it until it becomes something special to you.

Claiming My Writer Self

When I was about nine years old, I had enough awareness to think of myself as a writer and a poet. It wasn’t an urgent calling, but more like an understanding of the mystical bridges between the images and feelings of my world, binding together in the beauty of words. Soon my little rhymes turned into a serious passion, and by the time I was in high school, I was wearing a red beret as proof of my poet status.

I spent my youth and college years in a steady stream of undoubted devotion to writing. I explored all forms, sought out many poets (new and old) and filled many journals and typed pages with my ongoing observations. I rode on this poetic status right through graduate school, and on into academic readings, papers, teaching, and even further back into a thesis manuscript of poetic memoir and a free narrative exploration inspired by some stories in my family history.

In 2009 I defended my thesis, and it seems, checked out of my poet status. I, like many good graduate students, had reached a state of burnout. I lost touch with the romantic edge of poetry and found myself separated from the world which I had been blinded too.

Losing a passion for poetry is not unlike losing a lover. I found myself unprepared for life away from my graduate school foundations. I had little appetite for more school. I and loosened many contacts, as my fellow grad students went on to do various other pursuits. In this loss of community, I felt myself sink further into isolation from my former creative. I did other things:

I adopted a dog. I got married. I got a job as a nanny and another part time job working with teens. I turned 30 then 31,32,33,34 and on.

I tried, ever so slowly, to work on my writing, but I felt lost. The self-assurance that I had in my teens and 20s would have been quick to judge the 30+woman I had become, for failing her own high and charismatic expectations. I felt myself drifting into a place of excuses, and self-pity, and sadness

Moving to Amsterdam created an even wider gap between myself and my community. My friends and family were far away and I found myself in an unfamiliar place. There were new barriers of language, culture and my brain sweat to keep up with the steep curve of new experiences. I didn’t always rise to the challenge. I spent a lot of time feeling hurt and scared and alone.

As I have come to the first annum of my arrival. I had to make a commitment to get out of my lostness. I had to force myself to feel some sense of connection, or admit defeat and return home.

While I got some satisfaction out of returning to writing, there was an element of isolation that comes with being an artist in a new city. It is so easy to hide behind technology, inside Facebook, behind the safety of a screen.

I need face to face connection, and I need to create a community for myself and others like me. People need this type of connection.

There are so many things that make people feel separated: age, language, politics, religion, gender, life experience, beliefs, technology (to name a few). It is so easy to allow these separations to make us feel like failures. It is so easy to allow the loudest voices in the world to crush our beautiful sensitivities into dust.

Now is the time to stop hiding behind a screen. The best writing brings people together, inviting all who partake in the story to link together into a common world. A good story gets us in touch with ourselves, a good story shows us our commonalities. Returning to that childhood dream of being a writer (a dream that never really left). It has challenged me to quickly get out of my own sense of failure. I had to force myself into a revitalized sense of self.