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 alkellor@gmail.com 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 alkellor@gmail.com

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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