Giveaway: FREE Spot in My Workshop!

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Writer mom doing some “movement” with a monkey on her back

We have a winner, folks! Congratulations to Erin, who will be joining the workshop for free.

There are still spots available, and the “bring a friend, each get $10 off” offer still stands.

My friend An Honest Mom is doing a giveaway! And the giveaway? A free spot in the March 19 writing and movement workshop I’m co-teaching with a friend. If you’re not yet sick of hearing about it, and I hope you aren’t, because I’m so excited about it and it’s gonna be good—head on over to An Honest Mom’s blog for the details of how you can win a free spot in the workshop (and the kind benefactor who wants to help out a local writer/aspiring writer who’d like to go but can’t afford it).

Here’s the link!

 

 

Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story: Or, Faith

**Note! Special offer for writers interested in my Saturday, March 19 workshop Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story in Oakland (1:00-3:45 p.m. at Flying Studios at 4308 Telegraph Ave.) Bring a friend, both of you get $10 off the workshop fee. Email me through the contact page on this blog or contact Sandra at sandrakstringer@gmail.com to register.**

I’m really excited about this upcoming workshop I’m teaching with my friend Sandra Stringer on March 19th in Oakland: Releasing Your Body, Revealing Your Story: A Writing and Movement Workshop for Writers.

FlyerFinalREDUXI’m excited because I’ve been ruminating a lot on the nature of fear, and how it prevents us from doing good creative work. Truthfully, I feel like the thing that hinders me is more like procrastination, and grading papers, and parenting, but nonetheless I think it’s all of a piece: I get tense in my body and in my mind because of work, social, and familial obligations, and I worry that I won’t get everything done, so I act frantic, and then I don’t carve out enough space to write, and then I feel bad, and then I can’t work because I feel bad, and then…

Sound familiar? 

Anyway, it goes something like that, and I’m excited to do a workshop where we simply slow down for a couple of hours, let the body do its thing (e.g., release), and see what happens. I realize, in fact, that I’ve been craving this kind of time to just be still for several weeks. This is always a busy time of year; the papers-to-grade seem never-ending, spring break is fast approaching, somehow we’re supposed to plan for summer already (!), and we’ve had family visiting and more family coming. (I love seeing them all, so much, and it also means that I lose some writing time.)

So it should be a good afternoon.

In preparation for the workshop, I’ve been reading the famous book The Artist’s Way, which I’ve heard of for years but never picked up. The book is full of interesting practical ideas and an overarching theory that some would probably find a little too much: this notion that, to be an artist, writer, or creative person generally you need to put your faith in some kind of higher power. It’s all a bit 12-steppy, and yet, and yet—there is something about it that really resonates with me. Julia Cameron, the author, talks about the divine plan and how creativity works through us, like God working through us, and how, in a sense, you just need to make yourself receptive and then do the work and then, poof, it will all work out: you will become a creative and successful person. If you’re not religious, it might sound crazy (and I am not, so at first it was a little alarming for me), but it echoes notions of creativity that seem to be finding me everywhere these days: in this terrific Radiolab episode featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, and in a TED talk she did a few years back, both of which, when I first listened, absolutely blew my mind.

In a nutshell, Gilbert suggests that creativity is something outside of us, that creativity finds us, like a muse, or a little floating angel, as long as we’re open and receptive to it. There is something very anti-Puritanical about this notion! I, personally, was raised to work hard and not to expect too much. But for Gilbert, and Cameron, there is this belief that if you’re a good and dogged creative person, if you put the words on the page again and again and again, the universe will reward you with little gifts: a first chapter, a beautiful painting, the faith to keep going.

Whether you believe it or not, it’s kind of comforting, wouldn’t you say? It reminds me, actually, of my decision to name my chapbook Faith a few years back. I was obsessed with the word; it cropped up for me in everything I wrote. I think my entire notion of “faith” at that time centered around the belief that the words would keep coming, that things would work out if I kept at it. And in a way, I guess that’s what Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert are trying to say.

I hope, in my way, to bring some of that wisdom to the workshop the 19th.

Enough philosophizing for today; I need to go get some work done.

But I hope to see some of you at my workshop on the 19th, and, as ever, I’d be terrifically grateful if you spread the word to anyone else you know who might be interested. Note the special offer for bringing a friend! ($10 off for both of you.)

Faithfully,

Susie

Now I Have the Space, I Guess I Have to Use It; OR: How Writing a Book is Like a Yoga Class

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Summer!

Summer.

I love summer; I always have.

In fact, one of the greatest challenges of living in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area for me is that, though the weather is quite frequently amazing here, we don’t really, truly, get a summer that’s hot, hot, hot—and I miss it. But somehow, this past week, we’ve had something pretty close. It’s been unseasonably warm and dry (well, duh—it’s always dry) and the fog belt has been belted in, like so many unsuspecting children in the back seat of the car on a summer road trip (uh….). The garden is bursting at the seams. L is doing a fun summer camp and we’ve been biking there in our shorts. Then he has swimming class in a town beyond any mention of fog so I sit on the sidelines baking. Online classes make my time a little more my own, too. I went to yoga the other day for the first time in months.

And I do not. Feel. Like. Doing. Any. Work.

Suffice it to say that my huge enthusiasm for my new writing studio has waned some, simply because, while I love being in here, it also feels like an imperative to get off my butt and actually produce some writing. I’d love to! I really would! But man, it feels challenging.

This is not just because summer is so very, very tempting. It’s also because B and I are making some Big Life Decisions that are occupying a lot of brain space. And along with that, I’m in that very weird, somewhat-exciting, somewhat-terrifying place of starting a new project. A novel. It’s the same novel I started months ago, during NaNoWriMo, which I promptly relegated to the back burner once the book proposal and revisions entered in. But now that all of that is done, I have no excuse but to write the damn thing.

When I was a kid, my mom used to remind me, every time I started something new, that change was hard for me. Man, that was an understatement! The first day of Kindergarten wasn’t pretty. Starting high school sent me into a ten-day long depression that I still shudder to remember. Going away to college was awful. I’m not at all good with transitions. And so here I am, with one project to bed, sort of, and another on my desk. I know what needs to happen in the book, mostly. I have the premise all tied up. But I have a major problem to solve—I’m trying to write a character who’s a stand-up comedian, and frankly, I’m not that funny (actually, I’m hysterically funny, but only in person, and only to a small handful of other human beings). This is making me completely overwhelmed. In my more productive moments this week I’ve Googled “how to write humor” and done a few exercises that have been marginally entertaining. Then I kind of stare at the paper and freak out. I think what I really need to do is just jump in with both feet, get messy, and attempt to be funny along the way.

But I’d much rather be sitting in the sunshine with a good book and completely avoid it, because it feels really hard. 

So, as I said, I went to yoga the other day. During class, I had a bit of a facile realization but one that’s nonetheless reminding me something about the artistic process. The class was an hour long, and about halfway through, I got to that point that every yogi gets to in a yoga class: the moment when you really and truly hate it and wish you could go home. Your body hurts, you’re sick of mindfully breathing, the teacher is so annoying, and your thoughts have taken over and are running you ragged. Then, five minutes later, you calm down and remind yourself that the only way to get to the other side is to breathe and press on. Next thing you know, you’re done.

This is kind of like writing a book, I thought to myself. Not very much like writing a book, but enough like writing a book that I should remember it.

Here I go: breathing, pressing on, and attempting to wow you with my comedic prowess. Wish me luck.

 

On Hunger, Fullness, and Self-Everything: An Interview with Author Kimber Simpkins

Note: this post originally appeared on Popcorn.

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Several months ago I had the great pleasure of taking an early-morning yoga class in a field by a creek on a farm in Northern California. The teacher, Kimber Simpkins, mentioned after savasana that she was about to publish a memoir called Full: How One Woman Found Yoga, Eased her Inner Hunger, and Started Loving Herself. I was intrigued (and blissed out from her class). I’m always on the lookout for a candid personal story, and the subject matter and title totally drew me in.

Better versionFull, Simpkins’s first published book, details her struggles with body image from her days as a teenage anorexic to her life as a budding yoga teacher who just can’t seem to nourish herself adequately. Eventually, through yoga, self-reflection, more than a little humor, and a hundred other techniques (think Ayurveda, motherhood, and meditation), she finds a tentative peace with her body and her hunger—and a lasting realization that she is more than enough.

Kimber Simpkins graciously agreed to be interviewed, and we caught up over email.

Q:  I’m sure you’re asked this all the time, but from having met you, and seeing your truly gorgeous author photo on the back of Full—well, do people express surprise that someone as fit and attractive as you has struggled so much with her body image?

Yes, I hear it a lot! What I’ve learned from my own experience and from working with hundreds of women around body image is that you absolutely can’t tell from looking at someone’s appearance how she feels about her body. Someone who has an ideal body in your opinion may utterly hate herself, and someone who is unattractive to you might feel very content and happy with her body. We just can’t know, because body image functions in what I call the black box of the mind, where no one ever sees in, and little light ever shines. At some point in my childhood I unconsciously started believing a story that I was unattractive because of my weight, and then that story played in my head no matter what the “truth” was of what I looked like. My natural weight and body type place me out of the range of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, which was what I thought I had to look like or I was unworthy. Because of unrealistic comparison, it took me an embarrassingly long time to start to see the beauty in myself, just as I am, without having to live up to some outer expectation or ideal.

Q: My memoir is about my journey through anxiety, and often, old friends are shocked to learn that I was a worried wreck my whole life. Many of us are so closeted about our own demons that people around us simply don’t know. Was writing Full a bit like coming out of the closet, or have you been pretty open about your anorexia and recovery throughout the years?

Yes, Susie, I can relate to that! Part of being anorexic was “looking perfect,” and even now it’s sometimes hard for me to let down that facade. In my line of work as a yoga teacher, there’s also a tendency to idealize and put teachers on pedestals, so there’s an unconscious drive to conceal the things that aren’t pretty and shiny and ready for prime time. Lately I find myself in the middle of a conversation and the person says, “I read your book,” and I have this moment of feeling utterly naked and exposed. But then I realized it’s a great shortcut for me: “So you know all about my demons, tell me about yours!” Coming out about my eating disorder and body image history has happened in layers, little digestible bites at a time, one person here, a small group there, so that I’ve slowly built up my resilience and willingness to be vulnerable over many years.

Q: You write so authentically about overeating while still inhabiting the mind of the anorexic. You say you had “the worst of both worlds”—you couldn’t stop eating, but were constantly judging yourself for eating. For me, that was a very powerful part of your memoir because I could totally relate, having had my own issues with body image and overeating. Was it painful for you to write about those periods in your life when you felt so out of control?

Yes. Writing about those periods was painful, and cathartic. For years I felt this weird loyalty to the binge-eating/starving part of myself, this idea that if I left her behind, I was leaving an important part of myself behind. Full is sort of a memorial to her. I will always remember her, but she’s no longer running the show. Sharing her story satisfied my need to remain loyal and not forget, but move on.

Q: I was intrigued by the structure of your memoir. There is a clear journey, from anorexic/overeater to a woman with a healthy, loving body image, but there is also more of an episodic feeling, with chapters organized thematically rather than chronologically. It read in some ways like part memoir, part contemporary philosophy a la Pema Chödrön or Eckhart Tolle. Was that intentional?

Oh dear. If you had only seen me trying to make any sense of the 400 pages of raw material I started organizing the book from several years ago. At one point I printed it all out and literally sat in the middle of it with scissors and tape, desperately hoping to emerge with a book someone would actually read. I still have a big piece of poster board where I used a different color bar for each chapter to show how it contributed to the overall arc of the story. So much had to be left out.  The first version I had people read wasn’t chronological at all, and I got feedback that it needed a lot more structure, so some chronology ultimately made it in. For me the experience of living the story wasn’t chronological at all, but vacillated between time periods as past memories became relevant again and recent events started to fade.

Q:  I had the sense, reading Full, that the journey was unfolding for you and the reader at the same time. Did you write the book while you were on the journey, or did you write it years later, reflecting back?

The answer is definitely both. I was in the midst of the journey during the writing of the book, and pulled from my memory those things that seemed to explain and elucidate what I was feeling now.

Q: How long did it take you to write Full? What was your process like?

It took almost ten years, for that very reason that I was writing the book as I was figuring out how to feel full. I decided to just start asking the questions: why am I so hungry all the time? Why do I hate my body so much? And then followed the questions where they led me. The great thing was being able to consult an expert and say, “So I’m writing this book….” It gave my journey an urgency and legitimacy that helped keep me going and keep me honest.

Q: What kinds of experts did you consult?

To answer my questions about hunger and body image, I talked to an eating disorders specialist, a nutritionist, an Ayurvedic doctor, a Western medical doctor, a yoga philosophy professor, a meditation teacher, a massage therapist/psychic, a Chinese herbalist, and an acupuncturist, among many others. I was open to a lot of different options and opinions. Many of those encounters didn’t end up in the book. The one thing I didn’t want was a one-size-fits-all answer from a book or seminar. Part of my journey was the desire to be seen and understood as a unique individual with her own past and longing for freedom.

Q: You decided to self-publish. Could you talk a little about that decision and the events leading up to it?

I spent two years contacting agents and publishers and got lots of rejections, lots of silence, and just a few nibbles of interest, one of which turned out to be very helpful and made the book a lot better. But I never closed a deal. The book still had to be birthed somehow! We had come too far together to give up. I feel lucky to be alive in an era when self-publishing is so readily available.

Full Cover jpegQ: Why? What are the strengths of self-publishing, in your view?

I loved having control over the cover and what it looks like, being able to set the price myself, contracting the interior design out, working with editors of my own choosing, and having the final say over nearly every aspect of the book. It’s interesting—more attention is coming from agents and publishers now that the book is a real thing, and not just an idea, proposal, or manuscript.

Q: That’s good news. What should someone contemplating self-publishing know? What resources was it important to cultivate?

Be persistent and patient. Find out what you don’t know and who can help you for free or low cost before paying thousands of dollars. Think of yourself as a contractor/architect who is building a house. The manuscript is the foundation, and you’ve got your editors to help you make it really firm. Then you need the walls, the folks who are actually going to publish your book, and make it a real thing, with the exterior and interior. Then you need the painters and designers who make it look all nice; these are the marketing people who help promote your book and get the word out and make it someplace folks want to visit/read. It’s a lot of work, but think of yourself as bringing together a team of talented individuals to serve this act of creativity you’re birthing.

Q: What has been the response to your book? Do you have any readings or events planned?

Response has been great! The Amazon and Goodreads review are wonderful and I’ve enjoyed invites to speak to many different groups. Just this week I’ll be speaking at a community-supported kitchen in Berkeley and next week at the university to a group of women there who are doing important work around eating disorders, body image, and activism. Plus, March 8-9 in Berkeley, I’ll be teaching a Love Your Body Workshop for women to develop the tools for loving your body just the way it is.

To learn more about Kimber Simpkins or Full, to see her yoga schedule and learn about her workshops and readings, visit kimberyoga.com. You can also follow her—and get a daily love-your-body tip!—on Twitter (kimbersyoga) and Instagram (loveyouryoga).

Hey Babe, Where’s the Mayonnaise?

Something I’ve struggled with since I started blogging, and writing such a personal memoir, is the fact that we Americans just love to talk about ourselves. It’s not lost on me that psychoanalyzing my two-year-old and rehashing the events of my week, though cathartic and, I hope, marginally enjoyable to read, is a pretty privileged vocation. I belong to that camp that believes that human pain is human pain; even the most privileged people in society have problems. And I think if you spend all your time saying, I don’t deserve to feel what I feel, because of the starving children in India, you’re going to wind up with some really specific and bad neuroses. Nonetheless, there are vastly different human experiences, and sometimes it boggles the mind. I always remember the time my good high school friend L said to me, when things were awful in Haiti about two years ago and we both had small babies and were sleep-deprived and generally unhappy, “I do not even know what I would do if my kid was crying because she was hungry and I didn’t have anything to feed her.” I remember we both sort of stopped short and thought about it for a second, feeling very, very grateful.

I have very little idea about what’s going on in Syria at the moment, mostly because my experience of listening to the news goes something like “Scott Horseley, NPR News. In Damascus today“—”Mom! I need more milk!”—forces pushed into—”Mom! I need a snack!”—UN Resolutions—”Hey babe? Where’s the mayonnaise?”, but yesterday in the car I heard that children are involved in the violence and have been murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and sexually abused. I’m not sure whether the horror of those crimes is more horrific to me now that I have a child myself and can imagine being in a place where children were caught up in something like that—but any way you slice it, it’s horrific. And I just wanted to acknowledge that, I guess.

Hmm, mayonnaise

Close to home, things are going well. February has thus far been kinder to me than January was (which strikes me as odd since I think of February as the cruelest month. The kindest? September). You’ll remember I took that yoga workshop last weekend, and it changed my life. Not my life life, but my immediate actions, attitude, and the day-to-dayness of here and now. We started off by writing, and in that brief ten minutes I articulated for probably the first time how depressing and demoralizing I find the competitiveness around trying to get published (a man in the workshop helped me come to this, when, after 20 people had introduced themselves with variations of the phrase “I’m a writer” he said, “I’m an author,” and, well, I did not feel the yogic loving kindness heading his way). Then, we did some asana, just simple yoga but at a perfect pace and difficulty level. Then some meditation, during which time I had my second important realization: that my next project will be about childbirth. Then came the best part. One of the teachers pointed out that many of the students had said that they were feeling “stuck.” “In my experience,” he said, “being stuck just means that you’re hammering away at something from the same angle over and over again. Try something new.” How is it that something so obvious could have been so completely lost on me until that moment? And that was realization #3: I need to stop sitting in the same coffee shop day after day pulling my hair out. I need to go for a walk with a tape recorder so I can hear my own voice again. Or put the book away for a while. Go to an art museum. Do a prompt. Write a poem. Do yoga every day (I have been; just ten minutes in the morning, but it’s ritual, and it’s good).

In other good news L has started at his new daycare. Those of you who have been around me of late know how worried I have been about my dear sweet L, who proved to be sensitive, clingy, sad, and whiny at his old daycare. I assumed for four months that this was just who he was when I wasn’t around. But now after two days–two tiny days–at Lorena’s he is a new man. He didn’t ask for me once. On the ride over, he said, “you dropping me off, Mumma?” And I said yup, I sure am. See you after lunch. No problem at all. I am cautiously optimistic that this will keep up. He even told me he’d like to try taking his nap there on Friday. Could be a disaster; we’ll see. And as though to drive home the rightness of this decision, today we visited his old daycare, to say a proper goodbye. I noticed that while I was enjoying the camaraderie of the women, who are chatty and fun and sweet, L was sort of lost. He didn’t want to ask for things. He didn’t have any skills when another kid didn’t want to share. He was out of sorts. So I think we have made a good choice.

This is getting awfully long, so I’ll stop there. Blessings to you, party people.