Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Transformation: 
A Creative Nonfiction Workshop

When: Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.; 
September 28 - November 23, 2013
(Please note: we will skip Oct. 19, for a total of 8 sessions)
Where: Good Shepherd Center;  
4649 Sunnyside Ave N  Seattle, WA 98103
Cost: $247 by check; $252 by Paypal; receive $20 off your tuition if you register by August 26th.

Everything is changing; every moment we are being changed. In this workshop, we will explore the continual flux of our minds, hearts, and lives, while generating many pages of new writing. Each session, we will free-write together from prompts and be given the opportunity to share our words in a supportive, non-judgmental space. As we listen to others and ourselves, we will seek to recognize where the energy lies in our writing, identify what stories we most need to write about, and dare to be surprised by what we find.
Each week, we will also read essays and memoirs from authors such as Brenda Miller, Terry Tempest Williams, Maxine Hong Kingston, and David Shields. As we discuss their work, we will look closely at the craft of writing, paying attention in particular to the creative possibilities of structure and point of view (e.g. lyric forms such as collage or braided essays, flash nonfiction, etc.), as well as the power of details and language. Participants may also opt to submit a rough draft of a piece to the instructor during week 6 for extensive, constructive feedback, however this is not a workshop/critique-based class.
Ultimately, we will seek to locate the heart of our stories and to identify their major metaphors or themes. We will ask ourselves: Beneath the obvious storyline, what are we really writing about here, and how is our inner landscape being changed?  

Minimum # of students: 5; maximum: 9.

Recommended prior reading: Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Wild Mind; OR Writing Down the Bones.

Former Writing Transformation participants speak:

This workshop truly was inspirational, transformational, safe. Surpassed my expectations by developing my reader ear-- loved that! One thing I learned is that when I take risks in writing, and share that writing with an appreciative group of other writing risk takers, I discover more of myself -- and I trust I can grow from that discovery. Anne is skilled at group process and created a safe passage for all of us to write and share our writing.   -- Pennie O’Grady

Taking this class was the first step into the birth of a totally new perspective, of which I’m feeling the birthing pains acutely. The encouragement via practice and more practice-- so helpful. I was surprised at how much energy and momentum the workshop gave my writing. Suddenly I found it was all I was talking about, reading about, and wanting to do. I also really love the conversation and relationships formed when working in close proximity to other writers. Additionally, you managed to expand my horizons into modern authors and provide relevant and personal suggestions for reading. Lots of new energy into an angsty place. -- Candace Morris

Thanks for creating such a safe, nonjudgmental space for me to share my writing and for answering my questions with thoughtful, knowledgeable advice. I feel very motivated to continue writing! -- Renee

To read more testimonials or to learn more about my mentoring philosophy, please visit the other pages on my blog.
To Register or for Questions, please email me at:  and I will fill you in on details.  Please note: Your tuition is required to hold your spot in the workshop. Paying in installments (half now; half on first day may be possible).

Thank you! 


Refund Information

1) If the workshop does not fill to the minimum (5 students), I will notify you in advance and issue a refund to your credit card or by personal check.
2) Full refunds may be obtained if I receive written notice at least 2 weeks prior to the first day of the workshop

3) Full tuition minus a $20 cancellation fee can be refunded if written notice is given at least 3 days prior to the first day of the workshop. If you need to cancel later than this, I unfortunately can not offer monetary refunds, although I can offer credit towards editing/mentoring services, or future classes. Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks for your understanding.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Invisible Work of Writer-Mothers: An Existential To-do List

Dear Friends and Readers of this Blog,

It’s really been way too long since I’ve written here. The truth is, I’ve been a little depressed about my lack of ability to produce more lately, whether for this blog or for my manuscript, and so I think I’d better break this streak and give you an update, however meandering or self-absorbed it may turn out to be. And because I don’t have a preconceived topic at hand, I think I will turn to the list form because I like lists, and something about them feels less intimidating. More accessible. Easier to begin.

  1. I make to-do lists all the time, sometimes every day. I enjoy crossing things off them, even if they are little things like buying groceries or paying bills or returning library books. I can keep track of my own accomplishments each day, even when they are invisible to anyone but myself. Especially when.
  2. Writing or editing my book is always, at heart, the most important thing on my list, and yet, it’s also the thing that seems to only get attention when all other small and pesky, yet also important, obligations are fed. I wish this weren’t the case, but it so often is. It’s hard for me to settle deeply into my creative work when I have other things to do, and only a couple hours at my disposal. When I know I could cross multiple things off my list instead of just one thing, and one thing incompletely at that, it’s easy to choose the quick fix of “productivity.”  It’s much more satisfying to actually finish something, since when you are writing a book or raising a child, most of your work will never be done.
  3. I am growing tired of publicly proclaiming on Facebook that I am almost done with my book, or working on the fabulous Epilogue, or sending it out to a contest, or ready to launch it “soon”! I am tired of all these deadlines I keep setting for myself, but not meeting because no outside person is there to hold me to it. I am tired of people asking me when they can read my book, or how’s it going, or “So, you’re almost done?” and my own sorry, repetitive answer… almost, almost.
  4. If you’ve known me a long time, you will know I’ve been saying this for YEARS.
  5. I'd like to think that if you know me well, you will know that I have been meaning this for years. You will know that I am a hard worker and this is not a pipe dream. You will know that I am not simply re-writing this ending again because I can’t stand to let go of my baby, but because the book has evolved so much and I will give it what it demands. You will know that a part of me is also afraid to let go of my baby, precisely because I’ve worked on it so long. Maybe you will know that I mean what I say when I say I will publish this thing, but that in the long scope of things, what does it really matter if it happens this spring or this fall or next year? Ha.
  6. I am still working on this damn Epilogue. I am still editing many chapters. I still need to get feedback from my editor/friend before I can make any more proclamations of just how close I am, just in case she reminds me gently precisely why I need an outside reader on each new draft.
  7. You will probably hear another excited proclamation the next time I actually get a long chunk of time to write and thus feel jazzed and optimistic about writing again.
  8. I can accomplish more in one weekend to myself to write (working about 8 hours a day), than I do in MONTHS of working a few hours a week, here and there, if I’m lucky. Every time I put the book away for several weeks, I lose an essential connection to it, I stop living inside of it, and it takes a while to reenter it, to breathe in it and thus believe in it fully, which is why it’s really really hard to stop and go, stop and go, work on it for an hour here, or there. I know some writers, like Toni Morrison, can crank out a novel written in spare minutes on their baby’s diapers, but I am not that writer and I accept this. I am not profound and prolific. I am slow. I am patient.
  9. My husband and I have worked out a great system where we trade entire weekends. He uses his to go fishing; I use mine to write. Ever since we agreed to be 100% fair, trade a day for a day, I no longer begrudge his multiple, long fishing trips a year. When Cedar was younger, I simply accepted that I could not get away as much as he could. Now, there is no longer that excuse, and I will demand equity.
  10. Of course, on my weekends alone I prefer to just stay home where my papers, printer, and easy access to leftovers live; I don’t want to waste a minute driving somewhere or otherwise doing anything but writing if I don’t have to. So Matthew will usually take Cedar to Grandma’s for the weekend and stay away for two days, whereas he usually goes away for three days when he goes fishing. Which is to say that despite the appearance of equity, I am accruing a back-up of days that he “owes me”, which in my fantasy I will use during a week-long writing retreat some day in the near future. This feels more and more possible now, assuming that the retreat is cheap or free.
  11. Did I mention that I’ve been feeling a little angsty lately? Primarily, I think it has to do with not having enough time to write. But also, needing more exercise factors in there greatly, as well as more time outdoors, with hands and feet touching earth.
  12. You’d think by now I’d have figured out a rhythm so that I don’t end up feeling estranged from my writing for weeks at a time, but the thing is that life just keeps on changing and thus so does my routine. All it takes is a week of illness, or a couple weeks of my parents being away, to wipe out several chunks worth of planned writing time. If Cedar’s sick, then I cannot ask my childcare providers (friends and family) to watch him. If my parents or one of my regular friends I trade childcare with are suddenly unavailable for a week, then any window of time I have left to “work” pretty much has to go towards things like dishes, bills, emails, and cooking.
  13. I cannot live in a state of chaos. I like my life to be organized. And therefore, I cannot prioritize writing over all else when I am in charge of organizing our household. Our house would be disgustingly filthy, our bank accounts over-withdrawn. There wouldn’t be cooked meals in the fridge, and thus you’d find us eating out (which we can’t afford) or eating poorly, which I also have little tolerance for.
  14. I’m determined to get in better shape this summer and beyond. I’ve been going to Zumba twice a week, though now it is cut back to just once due to a class I’m teaching, but my intention is to start walking more too, all I can. I’ve also been cutting down on carbs, drinking more smoothies, and trying to always have some kind of yummy, easy, healthy food on hand for lunch, like quinoa salad and grilled chicken. It’s helped, though it’s a lifestyle thing, not a quick fix.
  15. Yes, I’d like to fit into my old clothes from just a year ago and not buy a whole new wardrobe, but my health aspirations are every bit as much for my mental health. Did I mention that I’ve been feeling a bit angsty? If I can’t write, I’m at least going to sweat and then take a nice shower and stretch out languidly, feeling my muscles again, thank you very much. This will help me cut down on beer and wine, too, in theory. I’m just one of those people who needs ample time and help to quiet down my brain at the end of the night. I’m a calm, mellow person on the surface, and yet somewhere inside is also a spring that is tightly wound. Sometimes I’ll go to bed and hear one of Cedar’s childrens’ songs on repeat in my head. It is a particular form of hell.
  16. As new parents, you do your best to just stay fed, showered, and rested enough to function and not go insane. You just try to make it through each day, and when you start feeling depressed, you try to gently remind yourself that this is because you are sleep-deprived and not because you don’t really want to be doing what you are doing. Yes, indeed, there will be days when you don’t want to be doing what you are doing, but then another season will change, another friend or activity will appear, or another window of time for yourself will open, and you are afforded a new positive perspective.
  17. At first, when Cedar was born, it was all I could do to write a short journal entry, and then eventually a quick feverish post on the blog. This felt satisfying and amazing to accomplish in itself.
  18. Then, a year or so later, if actually felt possible to start returning to craft and to edit(!) a piece here or there. To teach a writing class on Saturday mornings. And to take a workshop myself! To slowly inhabit more layers of my former identity, to dream of actually returning to the manuscript.
  19. Last summer, I hired a reader/editor to read through my book, to help me see it anew, through the eyes of a fresh reader who had never seen any of my drafts before. In the month leading up to sending her the pages, I worked on the manuscript with a focus and motivation that I hadn’t had in years. Someone who would read the whole thing! An actual deadline! Her feedback was really helpful and got me going again, back in the game, back to my proclamations of near-completion and publishing. Self-publishing now, so I could be on my own timeline. No more waiting around for acceptance.
  20. Now, a year later, the manuscript has changed quite a bit from what I sent her. It was “almost done” then, and it’s “almost done” now, but you see, there are many different kinds of “almost done”, and when you’ve been working on something for ten years you are allowed to call it “almost done” for at least the last few. And now I’m no longer so sure again about self-publishing. So much work. Maybe it’s worth it to send it out to agents again. What’s a few more years?
  21. My baby turned three at the end of March. I am the mom to a three-year-old! He’s a kid, a boy, not a baby. And all those articles for new moms that still pop up on my feed are no longer so relevant. I am seasoned mom, however still new in the larger scope of things. I am writing, teaching, and working one-on-one with folks as a writing mentor again. I am working on my almost-done book, and that much closer to publication. I am exercising again, I am planning summer camping trips, I am trying to make sure that my husband and I don’t wait one month (or more) again between date nights, and to do this, I am trading date nights with a friend  (an excellent arrangement for those on a budget). We are making this work, this whole work-life balance thing. I am showered and presentable most of the time. I even have time to think about putting on earrings. We have planted vegetables in a new raised bed made from recycled boards and free dirt. I am continually scattering bulbs, seeds, and plants around our yard, which is already gloriously lush and green and beautiful as it is. My child has a lot of energy and can be loud and defiant, yet he is also a deep pleasure to be around, and I truly love this age, being 3, the wonder and enthusiasm and sweetness of it all. Some parts of our house are falling apart, but we actually have been putting away money in separate accounts to save for emergencies and the like. My husband and I are more fiscally responsible and on the same page now. I love our co-op preschool and the friends we are making there. I am grateful for the sunshine and longer days, nights where we can sit out on the porch and it’s still light, hopefully moving away more from so many nights spent not talking in front of the T.V.
  22. What I’m saying, is that I’m mostly optimistic despite it all, and I know that things are good when I see them in perspective. I know I already have so much more time now to do the things I pined for a year ago, much less two or three. But as a writer, somehow it never feels like enough. No one’s ever going to pay me to sit down and write these books I know I must write, and so somehow we have to figure out a way for me to contribute some income to our household, and do the work I most love of all, AND be the primary caregiver for our child for the next couple years until he goes to kindergarten, and beyond.
  23. What I’m saying, is that it’s all still a complex and delicate balance, one that can so easily get skewed when there is no outside person breathing down your neck, threatening your job if you don’t finish this draft by tomorrow, and when there is no higher prioritizing of your work because it doesn’t equal money. That’s the sorry truth of it, no matter how much your partner or family says they support you. Lost your planned writing session? Oh well. It’s not really that important.
  24. So basically, if you are a writer who values your health, family, uncluttered space, connection with your partner, and overall happiness, then you’d better learn to embrace the art of patience RIGHT NOW, because it ain’t all gonna happen on some prescribed timeline that you think it should happen on. You’re upset because you haven’t published a book by 30? 35? 40? Too bad. If you are in it, from the depths of your soul, because you can’t not write, then you need to just let go of your old measures of “success”. You need to just keep doing what you can, little by little, every day, and learn to swallow your pride when you are asked the same questions, or are giving the same answers, a year later. You need to just trust in what you know needs to be done, and your own soul’s timeline you are working within, and let go of what you think other people think.
  25. It’s all going to get done. Whatever is meant to get done. It’s all going to get done if you keep trusting and working on it. A change in plans, a child’s sudden illness, another deadline pushed another off month? Get used to it. Make a new list, figure out a new goal, do your best. Breathe. Trust. Work hard. Stay healthy. Stay happy. Let go, when you need to. Push through when you must.
  26. Easy, right? Ha. The invisible work of writers. The invisible work of mothers. The extra hard invisible work of mother-writers. This is what we do. This is what our to-do lists look like. Laundry. Dinner. Blood. Wine. Crying a bit. Running if you do that kind of thing. Dancing if you don’t. Then laughing. Breathing. Starting again. Again. Again.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writing Transformation Workshop: May 28 - July 16th, Tuesday evenings

Yes, it's been way too long since I've posted anything here, I know. That time will come, but... 

In the meantime, the first installation of WRITING TRANSFORMATION was so engaging, that I've decided to put together another workshop starting on May 28th! This will be an 8-week workshop, with a smaller group (7 participants max), where you can both generate new writing and get in-depth feedback on an essay or memoir-in-progress from me and others. (All levels of writers are welcome, yet ideally you should have some experience with free-writing, feel comfortable sharing your work, and be committed to the revision process.) Read on for the full description!

When: May 28th - July 16th, Tuesday evenings, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Mosaic Coffeehouse in NE Seattle; (except for 2 weeks when the space is closed and we will meet at a private location in Wallingford)
Cost: $240 by check, $247 by Paypal
To register: Contact Anne Liu Kellor at


Stories of personal transformation lie at the heart of human experience. Whether we’ve given birth to a child, uprooted our homes or relationships, come out of the closet, lost or found our faith, or said goodbye to a loved one, many of us have gone through vital periods in our lives where we’ve struggled to embrace a shifting identity, longed for greater direction or purpose, or striven to create a new home.

In this workshop, we will explore our personal stories in a supportive and stimulating environment. We will free-write together extensively, share from our writing, and read and discuss works of creative nonfiction from authors like Brenda Miller, Cheryl Strayed, Emily Rapp, and Zadie Smith. We will also discuss the process of writing, explore key elements of craft
, and delve into the art of revision.

Participants will each submit a piece-in-progress to the group during weeks 5-8 to be discussed in a thoughtful and respectful way. Together, we will seek to locate the heart of each others stories and to identify their major metaphors or themes. We will ask: Beneath the obvious storyline, what am I really writing about, and how has my inner landscape shifted or changed?

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions! 
Thanks much,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Growth, Stubbornness, and Working On a Memoir for (something like) Ten Years

Me, shortly after I arrived in China and Tibet in 1999, at Namtso Lake in Tibet.

Sometimes I feel ashamed when people ask if I’m still working on the same book. Yes, for almost a decade now I’ve been working on a memoir, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL, with some periods away from it in between. Most of the chapters originated during my time in grad school from 2004-2006, although many of the seeds of those pieces had already been planted during the years I lived and wrote in China from 1999-2002. And in some respects, you might say I’ve been working on this book since the day I was born.

This book has taught me a ton—about the process of writing and about myself. I have grown so much as a writer over these years that I have felt compelled to go back and rewrite most of the pieces, again and again and again. And because it’s a book about discovering myself during my twenties—and I started writing it while still in my twenties—it’s also a book whose deeper meaning has been elusive and unfolding as I’ve grown as a person.

If I could do it all over again, I’m not sure what, if anything, I would do differently. Initially, I wrote almost every chapter as a piece that could stand alone. They came out that way, and this also made it easier to submit stuff to writing group critiques or literary magazines. Eventually though, and perhaps even from the beginning, I knew I was writing a book. I then spent many years stringing the pieces together, agonizing about whether to call it a “collection of essays” or a “memoir”, submitting it to agents and later small presses, getting sick of it, putting it down for months or years at a time, losing faith in it, and then finally dusting it off, sitting down and becoming obsessed with it all over again.

It’s been a labor of love. Of dogged stubbornness. Of moments filled with doubt (this writing is crappy and self-absorbed), and moments filled with pride (this is a great book that will speak to many!). Yet finally, what’s pushed me on is simply the knowledge that, no matter how many people the book ultimately reaches, I must get it out there, share it, find closure, move on.

In retrospect, it would have been a whole lot easier to have conceived of it as a whole memoir from the get-go, and mapped it out as such, not having to later convert all the original stand-alone pieces. But, that’s not the way my process went. I needed the writing practice, and I needed to let it unfold organically, to just let it become what it would become. I never imagined that it would take me almost ten years to finally get to the point where I feel like the book is cohesive and whole, and where I’ve finally accessed the necessary perspective that I needed in order to infuse the book with a more seasoned perspective.

I never was good at having an elevator speech, and maybe this should have been my clue that I still hadn’t honed what it was about, at core. “My book is about my travels between China and America in my twenties,” I’d say (but it’s not a travel book). “My book is about growing up half-Chinese, and searching for my cultural and spiritual identity,” (true, but kind of vague). “My book is about my longing for language, love, and belonging” (closer, but more vague). Fine, then, my book is about me, I’d say, only sort of kidding. It was all of the above. And then some. Which was it? Was it trying to be too many things? Did I need to lose the threads about Buddhism and Tibet, and focus more on the cultural identity theme, about growing up bilingual, then living in China and entering a relationship with a Chinese man?

Now, anyone who’s taken a course in memoir can tell you that memoir is not autobiography. Memoir is not the entire story of your life; memoir is a story from your life. So pick one theme, one particular thread, and tell that story well. Leave out lots of other important stories and details if they don’t serve the one story at hand. Trust that there will be other books in you; that you can tell the other stories elsewhere. Find your focus.

For a while, I feared I was not heeding this basic advice. I feared I was holding on too tightly to wanting to tell ALL of my story--  my coming of age, self-discovery, spiritual-heart-opening, obsession with language and China, longing for intimacy, and searching for home story. But when I tried to cut out the pieces about my obsession with Tibet and my initial spiritual awakening, it still wasn’t working. Now there were gaps in chronology I was trying to disguise, and, moreover, there were gaps in adequately expressing what was really going on inside of me, on the most intimate level.

My readers/editors wanted it to be a cohesive, linear whole, not a collection of linked pieces, because the blueprint of my story was already there. What was missing was a deeper, seasoned thread of reflection to stitch it all together. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of “telling” in the manuscript, maybe too much. But this reflection still belonged to each piece alone and didn’t yet do much in the way of making the pieces speak to each other as a whole. And ironically, the book itself is about wanting to feel whole.

Finally, about a year ago (after taking an awesome workshop with Lydia Yuknavitch on finding your core metaphors), I was inspired to break out the dusty manuscript again (after a mostly motherhood-driven, three-year hiatus), and write a new piece/introduction called “Mirror Face.” In this piece, I went back to one of my original metaphors, first unearthed in a piece I wrote in 1997 for my first college creative writing class. It was a piece about vision, mirrors, reflections, identity and self-consciousness. It’s central metaphor began with me, as a child, looking in a mirror and hating the way my two eyes did not match—the way one of my eyes was creaseless, like a Chinese eye, and the other eye had a fold, like a Westerner’s. It was a piece about how I saw and judged myself, and in turn feared others saw and judged me.

There it was. A new beginning to my book. A new beginning that had existed all along, but that for some reason I’d failed to see belonged. And from this new (old) beginning, I suddenly saw the entire book framed anew. It wasn’t that the theme of cultural identity wasn’t already prominent in almost every chapter, but it had never been introduced in quite the same way. Something about sharing my childhood vulnerability and speaking directly to my desire to overcome my early seeds of self-consciousness, was crucial in informing the linear story at  hand about living in China, and my longing to find a spiritual path and to become fluent in Chinese as an adult. Something about that one central metaphor helped me to tie it all together better, and see and love the book anew. And with a new beginning, I was better able to determine which pieces needed to stay or go, and to write a new ending that helped the book come full circle.

So here I am. Still editing the epilogue and waiting to get feedback from my copyeditor/friend, before we start the process of designing, creating and self-publishing the book. Sometimes I still get hit with pangs of, maybe I should try one last time to get a publisher, after all, the book’s a new and improved animal now, but something about time and motherhood has infused my life with a more urgent perspective. I am ready to get this book out in the world NOW. I do not want to wait again for months to hear back from agents, and even if I got one quickly this time, it could take years more for the agent to place the book, if they even could. And then, after that, another couple years before it would come out. That could be another five years of my life! No, thank you. I have other projects on the backburner, including another book I've already started and received funding to work on, and projects that (I hope) will not take me as long to complete as this one.

But you never know. Maybe I am just one of those slow writers who writes long books and takes a long time to understand what she is truly writing. It doesn’t matter. I trust now that these things just have to take their course. You can be as disciplined about your writing and self-imposed deadlines as you want, but you can’t force the process, the timing, or the way in which your book’s core insights choose to be revealed.

Who knows, maybe I had to become a mother first, to shift my life so radically that I could finally see my whole younger searching period with new insight. Maybe it has nothing to do with any given age (e.g. the fact that I’ve been writing about my twenties and now I’m in my late thirties), but more to do with specific changes that happen in a person’s life that suddenly catapult our perspective into a whole new realm.

In any case, I now plan to self-publish. I will proudly join the ranks of the DIY culture, and do everything I can to create a beautiful, professional product and get it into the hands of as many people as I can. Because this book is important to me. And because I believe it is good. And while sometimes the best advice may very well be to let go of something and move on, there are other times when you can’t bear to do this, and you just have to keep trusting that there is more at stake here, something that you need to see all the way through.

Me, before leaving China in 2002, looking out over the monk's quarters at Labarang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu Province.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Six-week Workshop Series: Writing About Transformation and Inner Change

When: Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
                                  March 16 – April 20, 2013
Where: Good Shepherd Center; 4649 Sunnyside Ave N., Seattle, WA 98103

Cost: $180 ($160 if registered by 2/15; see below for details)

Facilitator: Anne Liu Kellor, M.F.A.

Stories of personal transformation lie at the heart of human experience. Whether we’ve given birth to a child, uprooted our homes or relationships, come out of the closet, lost or found our faith, or said goodbye to a loved one, many of us have gone through vital periods in our lives where we’ve struggled to embrace a shifting identity, longed for greater direction or purpose, or strived to create a new home.

In this workshop, we will explore our own intimate stories and questions in a supportive and stimulating environment. We will free-write together extensively, share from our writing, and read and discuss works of creative nonfiction from authors like Cheryl Strayed, Lydia Yuknavitch, Steve Almond, Patricia Hampl, and Maxine Hong-Kingston. We will also discuss the process of writing and a few key elements of craft, such as:

  • the importance of writing as openly and fearlessly as possible;
  • the question of why we are called to tell a particular story, and what it is we want to understand or say;
  • the balance of “showing” and “telling” (i.e. including vivid details that invite our readers into our experiences, while stepping back to reflect and provide deeper insight);
  • the different stages of writing: from early, raw free-writing to the first attempts at pounding out a draft, editing, and finding a frame.

Most of all, we will seek to locate the heart of our stories and to identify their major metaphors or themes. We will ask: Beneath the obvious storyline, what am I really writing about, and how has my inner landscape shifted or changed? 

During week 4, you may choose to submit a rough draft of a piece to the instructor for feedback. Enrollment is limited to 8, and all voices are welcome.

Please email Anne at if you have any questions or to register. Payment is accepted via Paypal or by check. (You do not need a Paypal account to use Paypal.) If needed, you may pay ½ upon registering, and ½ on the first day.

Refund Policy: If the workshop needs to be cancelled due to low enrollment, full refunds will be administered. If you otherwise choose to drop out, full refunds are available if written notice is given by February 28th. After 2/28, I can offer a refund only if the workshop has filled to its minimum (5 students), or I can offer a credit towards editing/mentoring services. After the first workshop, unfortunately no refunds are available. Thank you for your understanding and please don't hesitate to contact me with questions! -Anne

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ritual: Thoughts on Christmas, Santa, Solstice, and the Meaning We Intend to Create

As the holiday season came and went, I found myself thinking a lot about ritual, and asking my husband to think about it with me too. What rituals do we want to create for our family? What does Christmas really mean to us, seeing that we are not Christian? And what about that Santa dude? 

What overall message do we want to imprint on Cedar about the deeper meaning of this season?

Cedar was two and a half years old during the holidays this year, old enough that we could start talking to him about these things, but young enough that we could still kind of wing it as we went along, glossing over the parts we weren't quite sure about yet, and taking note of the things that we want to cherish.

For instance, we talked to Cedar about Santa, somewhat reluctantly, because other people had started talking about him and asking Cedar what he wanted from Santa. To be honest, I am still on the fence about the whole Santa ritual. On one hand, I grew up believing in Santa, and I do remember the excited feeling of leaving out cookies and milk for him, then waking up to see them partially eaten. Santa was fun and magical (until Santa left the Fred Meyer price tags on, which is how we figured out he was our parents). I don't recall feeling duped or mad that they had lied to us, but I also don't remember Christmas feeling any less magical once we knew he wasn't real. 

So what's the harm in Santa, you might ask? Well, none really unless you pause to think about the underlying teaching of the story: that Santa is watching and judging our children, that they are being rewarded or punished based on their behavior, and, that some kids (the affluent ones) just happen to get a whole lot more presents from Santa than others. 

I have to ask: do we really need Santa? I mean, isn't there enough real magic and ritual in the season that we can do without this story too? And what about the part where we teach our kids that Santa comes down the chimney, a home intruder no less, but it's okay because it's this old white dude with presents. Or what about all the borderline-sketchy shopping mall Santas who, to me anyway, seem to dilute the magic?

Seeing that I hadn't quite worked out how I felt about this whole debacle, in the end I did purchase and read to Cedar The Night Before Christmas a few times, and tell him that Santa would be bringing him a present, and we even took a picture on Santa's lap (at a friends' house party).

But in the end Cedar was neither super excited nor scared of Santa, because I didn't play it up. I didn't emphasize the chimney part, and nor did I make a huge deal to emphasize how the one present sitting by the chimney Christmas morning was from Santa and not us. Nor did I wrap it in different paper; Matthew thought it wouldn't matter at Cedar's age, but I'm pretty sure he would pick up on something like that, at least on an unconscious level. In any case, Cedar was just so excited to get a new c.d. player that who it was from hardly mattered.

Speaking of presents, I had fun picking them out this year, but didn't want to overdo it. I figured a few presents from us would be just as exciting to Cedar as receiving a dozen, and I'd rather be able to spread out our "toy budget" (not that we are that financially organized) throughout the year than to feed into the Christmastime consumer frenzy. So Cedar got a few new books, art supplies, socks, a dress-up cape (he said he didn't like it), and one "big present": the c.d. player (the cheapest at Fred Meyer I could find). What can I say, my kid is obsessed with playing music and dancing, and it beats trying to fend him off the computer all the time. Of course he got plenty of other fun stuff from his grandparents, too.

We're not rich (at least by first world standards), so these presents seemed reasonable. And secondly, I really don't want for Cedar to associate Christmas or the holidays with just a smorgasboard of presents. Of course, to some degree this is inevitable, but he doesn't need for us to overdo it, as I'm quite sure the rest of the society will feed his materialistic urges on its own.

So: there is Santa, and there are presents. And to a lot of people like us who celebrate Christmas but aren't Christians, that's kind of it, right? Well, of course, there's also the chance to gather with family, go to lots of parties, and eat lots of sweets. And there's the fun of decorating, Christmas trees, and ornaments. But what about any deeper meaning or ritual? Family is the most important part of what we are celebrating together, but I don't want presents and sweets to be the main distinguishing factor between the holidays and just any other gathering.

When Cedar is older, I will teach him about Baby Jesus and all that, but I will also teach him about other religious traditions, and how they are connected by certain core teachings. Be kind and help others. Share with your neighbors. Give thanks. Welcome the returning of the light. 

Which brings me to... Winter Solstice. I started celebrating Solstice maybe ten years ago, with a few of my closest girlfriends. (You know, the spiritual types.) Well, at first I had to learn what it even was-- the shortest and darkest day of the year. The day when we can start looking forward to more light and longer days. The day which pagans celebrated (insert: more history here). A day which resonates with me on a deep level because it is so tangible; so grounding; so easy to explain, even to a toddler.

Next year, when we remember to include Cedar in on our Solstice celebrations, I will talk to him about the seasons, and the different elements that each season brings. 

In the summer, we are outside a lot. We run around, we travel, we hike, we camp, we grow vegetables, we swim. We laugh and take it easy. We don't worry so much about troubling things. 

Then, in the fall, we start to spend more time indoors. We admire the beauty of the changing leaves, we harvest the last of our vegetables. We still spend as much time as we can outdoors, and we tend to appreciate it more because we know that winter is coming, and the days of warmth and sun are fleeting. Gradually, we begin to take stock of the work that lies ahead, the work we can do while we are inside. We bundle up tightly, we gather with family, we celebrate and give thanks for all we have.

Then, comes winter. Winter is a time to hibernate. To huddle in close with loved ones and family. To work on projects that we have saved up for this season. To go deeper into our hearts, into our longing, our ache, and also our gratitude and our connection to other beings. To light candles, decorate, and make our homes more beautiful, in contrast to the starkness of the branches outside. Winter is also a time where we are called upon to remember to share more with those who don't have homes, those who may be hungry or cold. Winter is a time to light candles and fires. To huddle in close, to sing, and to pray. 

Winter is when we celebrate Solstice, or Christmas, or Hanukkah, or some personal incarnation/combination of our mixed heritages. Winter is also when we take stock of all we have accomplished in the year behind us, and set forth our intentions for the new year to come. 

For me, Winter Solstice seems like the true New Year to celebrate. Cosmically speaking, seasonally speaking, it is when the true shift happens. Either that, or else autumn also feels more like a time of new beginnings to me, like around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Maybe in part this is due to years of back to school conditioning, but I think it's more than this; I think it's also just the sense of drawing inward that comes over me as the season dawns, while still fueled by all the active momentum of the summer.

In any case, I realized this year that, slowly over the last ten years, the holiday that has become the most holy to me is Winter Solstice. After I returned to the States, in 1992, from living in a huge polluted city in western China for two plus years, I was starved for nature: for space to walk in without being stared at by throngs of people: for close friendships; for deep eye contact; and for the environment of the Pacific Northwest which I grew up in, yet had taken for granted for so long. Never again. 

It was around this time that my friends and I started celebrating Solstice together with a simple ritual. We hollowed out 12 satsumas, one for each month, or cycle of the moon, and placed tea lights within the rounded peels. We did this while standing near a body of water; for several years at my friends' waterfront house in Olympia, on Eld inlet, where the tide drifted the candles out in a slow chain. Then, one year, we did it at Matthew's Beach on Lake Washington, where the waves kept pushing the candles back to shore. And another year, at the neighborhood pond near my house, a bit less pristine, but carrying on the ritual all the same.

Whether there was two or five of us, we'd each go around in a circle and take turns lighting a candle and saying a prayer or intention for the new year. Often, this was just one word. The intention might be something that we wish for ourselves, or for all beings-- it didn't matter, because ultimately it is all one and the same.

This year, my friends are more scattered and so I did not attend a Solstice gathering. But Matthew and I did manage to light some candles after Cedar went to bed, and speak of our intentions for the new year. I regretted that we had not remembered to share a part of this ritual with Cedar (he loves lighting candles), but no matter, it would mean even more to him to introduce it to him next year, when he is three and can grasp that much more.

So this is what I realized over the holidays: I want Solstice to be our primary family holiday. Holy Day. Then, Christmas can be more about gathering with family, presents, sharing, and good times-- and yes, in this sense, also holy. But this way, at very least, we can remember during this busy season to take a deep breath together, and honor the deepest parts of ourselves and the world. And because Solstice falls before Christmas, we can do this before the onslaught of presents and parties so that those exciting events don't overshadow the smaller, quieter, and more soulful rituals that can be so hard, yet important to create.



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