Writing Circle- 1/8/2020

Hugo House, a Seattle hub for writers, hosts a free monthly writing circle through the library, and I’m committed to attending every one this year (as long as I’m in town). The West Seattle circle is run by Jeanine Walker, a poet who also works in the local schools (she has spent lots of time in the classroom with my son and I always enjoy her encouraging comments on his work).

Initially I was a little disappointed that the writing circle closest to me is focused on poetry, not something I’m generally drawn to writing, but a half-dozen sessions with Jeanine over the past 18-months have changed my mind about the value of poetry in my own writing practice. Just as I’ve seen improvements to my portrait work by shooting street work or landscapes, writing in a different way develops different schools.

The latest writing circle I attended this week, and I particularly appreciated the way working within a specific form, the abecedarian, coaxed something new and different out of me.

I’m going to start sharing my work from the writing circles here. They’re written in 5-10 minutes, very-little to no editing, and the only intention I have is to keep deepening the idea that I am someone who writes. I am a writer and here is what I’ve written recently.

The first is the “warm up poem” she has us write at the beginning of each circle. It can be anything we want, any form we choose. I received some troubling/frustrating news right before we walked into class and it was cathartic to write out my feelings in the moment, combined with the feelings generated when a woman in the circle introduced herself and said she has been writing about birds she watches in her yard, “I’ve been watching a one-eyed finch, it’s the second time he’s visited”:

Warmup Poem

The flood of adrenaline that comes with the news
Here in this calm room I feel out of place
Face flushing
Bladder bursting
Heart pumping
There is no one chasing me, where is the race?

The woman who saw the one-eyed finch
What was her demeanor today?
Yesterday?
Last week?
How would she describe her 2019?
She saw the finch twice,
Not because the finch came just to her
She wasn’t trying to keep pace

And my abecedarian, inspired by the personal shit I was working through at the moment

Abecedarian Pleading for A Communal Approach to Living


All of us here in this room must
Buy in to the idea of 
Community in order for the
Damn adherent
Effect to take hold and
Form the bonds that 
Generate
Healing
Inclusivity and 
Joy. I, (like you, yes?),
Know all too well the feeling of 
Lack that comes from 
Misunderstanding
Negativity and
Open hostility.
Play nice” is what Ms. McCullough taught me in kindergarten. I ask myself the 
Question, is Ms. McCullough still around? We
Really need her right now. 
Some will say, whether they are an authority or not, 
That I am the problem as much as anyone. I would never claim to be
Unaware of my faults. (In fact, I rank as the 
Very best critic of them.) 
We’ll never get anywhere if perfection is required. 
Xtra important in this endeavor is the willingness to say
Yes, I know I have 
Zero ounces of perfection contained in my form. I am here with an open heart, can we try together?”

Creating for Creation’s Sake

The act of creation is worthy in itself. Hype and critique tell us that creative pursuits are validated by social status: awards, attention, money, likes, comments, followers.

The most daring of all artistic acts is to create for the sake of creating. To recognize and believe that worth is inherent simply because it is possible.

Jennanism

Defined as: love of Self, belief in oneself, rejection of external titles, acceptance of limitations, acknowledgement of capacity, celebration of advancement.

I’ve been called a bad feminist. A terrible mother. A poor lost soul. A joke of a wife. An apostate. Selfish. Lazy. Good-for-nothing. Worthless.

Every single one of these is an external title. I didn’t emerge all squishy and pink with an descriptive banner splayed across my chest. All were handed to me by someone else along my way. And guess what? At one point or another I accepted them all, graciously bowing down and shouldering the weight because how can I ever be the right kind of person if I don’t drop everything important to me to focus on being what other people want me to be?

Me? Little Miss Nothing? I couldn’t possibly figure this out on my own.

My church leaders spent a lot of time talking about the Iron Rod. It’s a story from the Book of Mormon about a man who sees a glowing tree in the distance, a tree representing all the goodness God has to offer. He must hold tight to the rod in order to get to his destination. When he looks off in the distance he sees his brothers laughing and living in sin, unaware that they are about to plunge into the depths of Hell. They foolishly made the choice to figure things out on their own and look where it got them.

I left Mormonism, but I’ve been casting about for a rod to hold to ever since (btw, I am not ignorant to the bounty of euphemisms and innuendo that naturally flow when using the term rod – I didn’t choose the metaphor!). The idea of Jennanism came up during a discussion about feminism, and the many problems the movement has (women using it to police other women’s behavior, the dialog that often puts males on the defensive, etc). I said something like “But what am I then? If I’m not a feminist what do I use to define myself?”

“You’re Jenna. If you need something to practice, practice Jennanism.”

The nerve, right? An average female, with a few minor accolades to her name, declaring that she contains the power and potential to let go of the external load she’s been dragging behind her for 30+ years and make her own way? I don’t even need to read the comments to know the tenor of the commentary:

Selfish
Narcissitic
Delusional
Grandiose
Stupid
Foolish
Laughingstock
Typical

Lordy lordy, what to do with that? Those labels, those titles, would cut deep except

EXCEPT

as a deep devotee of Jennanism I have a set of tenets to hold to in situations like these. What do we find back at the top? “Rejection of external titles.” There is one true title for me – Jenna. I’ve got my knapsack packed, all the essentials necessary, and there ain’t no room for the bullshit of others on this path.

Not caring what people think is hard, it takes work. But so did reading my scriptures every day, remembering to pray over every meal, seeking out clothing that covered my shoulders and thighs and midriff, saying no to events and activities on Sunday when they didn’t fit with my Mormon ideals. The work didn’t grate because it was my identity. I would meet new people and say “Hello, I’m Jenna, I’m a Mormon.” When faced with a tough situation I used my Mormon scaffolding to support my decisions, a structure developed and refined entirely by others.

I’m working with new scaffolding now, this time developed entirely by me. Lob it all my way, the accusations and the descriptions and the titles. The air is pretty damn clear up here, it’s going to take some work to reach me.

Let it be easy friends. Peace and truth. That’s the Jennanist way.

Who Cares What A Blog Is Supposed To Be Now

Last night I figured out why I have a handful of drafts sitting waiting to be published to this blog, with no desire to actually send them out into the world.

I don’t want to be a 2019 blogger. I want to be a 2008 one. The way it was when I started publishing online as That Girl/That Bride/That Wife and the only goal was to write what you know or think or feel and send it out into the universe.

I don’t want my personal writing space to be about a formula – how can I make every image have a similar look and feel? What’s my brand? What narrow margins should I constrain the post topics and form within? Should I talk about X or Y this week?

F that. No more shoulds. I chose the name Living Absolutely because I wanted something to guide me, and containing myself for the form is not living. And it’s not absolute either! I tried being contained and now I’m going to try flying free. Writing what’s on my mind whenever it strikes me, choosing whatever image I’m compelled to share because I have thousands on my hard drive waiting for some fresh air and not because it fits a certain aesthetic, moderating comments heavily (play nice darlings, don’t go around thinking that #criticismcorner exercises are contained to Instagram!), giving my writing muscles a workout for no reason other than how good it makes me feel.

There it is. One step closer to understanding what Living Absolutely means for me.

Back in the old days I enjoyed the act of crafting a post around reader requests. Comment here or on Instagram and help me restart that list.