Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or email@example.com for more information.
Today, my 51st birthday, happens to fall about 5 days after the two week mark since my last posting to this blog. Although I’m late, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that my topic today is a passion of mine, food writing.
I’m sitting in a small vegan place that just recently opened in east Nashville, Tennessee, called Khan’s Desserts Bakery and Café, drinking an herbal tea blend called Lavender Love, made by local tea maker called High Garden True Herbal Teas. I also have a vegan chocolate mint brownie on my table, with green frosting and a sprinkling of chocolate chips on top.
A little while ago, I indulged in a vegie burger and a side of fried okra at Pied Piper Eatery, just a short drive down Porter Road from here. The burger itself was red inside, because of the beets, kidney beans and secret spices used to make it. I ordered it with avocado, pickle, lettuce and barbecue sauce, and bottles of ketchup and mustard were already on the table.
The okra was nicely crunchy with a clearly homemade batter, and pieces of it had been cut with subtle variations in shapes and sizes, so I could tell it hadn’t come from a bag of pre-made frozen fried okra.
Even though I’m nowhere near hungry enough to break into the brownie, the tea and the thought of the sweet dessert make me feel satisfied. Food can be such an immediate sensual experience, that I sense how writing about it lets me express something very concrete and close.
Writing teachers often instruct students to write about what they know. What can you know better than the food you ingest daily? Using nouns and verbs, the details of a meal can rival the most daring of adventures as an exciting topic for a writer, including the climbing of Mount Everest and the search for the Titanic or flight M370.
Additionally, this nourishment not only provides experiences, it also keeps you alive, and can heal you from the stresses of the humdrum, mundane, so called “normal” life. You can write about your food whether you’re a gourmet or not, no matter what walk of life you come from.
It helps to keep a perspective on how you treat yourself and how your emotions come into play as part of how you work and relate to others. When striving to lose or gain weight, or achieve any other health goal, it will help to keep a journal of exactly what you have eaten every day and how much.
I’m working on a 25 minute presentation for an upcoming talk at the AAPNA (Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America) annual conference July 4-6 in Boone, North Carolina.
(This summer just started on Saturday, June 21 and it marches on, and I haven’t been to a lake or a beach since Mother’s Day, back on May 11. On that day, my brother, my two sons, and my two sisters-in-law and I headed out for Greenleaf beach in Evanston Illinois, for a quick nap in the presence of the great Lake Michigan waves washing up on sand, a stalwart stress reliever. After that we saw the movie Belle.)
I have written some chaotic notes on a blank journal made of paper as well as on a word document electronically. I have the link to a video that I sent my client in order to help her put aside the stress she was experiencing. Here is the link to one of the most relaxing music videos I have ever seen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXqpsebHE0s&feature=related
The presentation draft might turn out to be brilliant, but I have a feeling I need to start practicing it orally in order to move it forward.
Writing for a speech may differ from writing for readers only. How does it differ for you? How does it differ to write for your own vocalizations rather than for others’ speeches?
As I imagine giving the speech, the interaction with the audience keeps entering my mind. However, when I write for a reading audience, I don’t imagine any interactions, at least not in the moment of delivery. Spoken presentations are much more momentary, and the exchanges happen so quickly.
The momentariness of speech makes practicing beforehand so necessary. Practice extends and lengthens the moment of the delivery and makes it more familiar to the speaker, so when the actual moment does come, the message being sent out stays more clearly and firmly in the speaker’s mind.
That’s one way to make sure to relax when delivering a presentation, and relaxing will allow humor and connections to take place, enchanting and attracting the listeners.
By placing a blank journal and a pen next to your bed, you make the key to remembering and thus interpreting your dreams more accessible to you. Although using these tools for your own information may not happen automatically, in time you can start to understand your own subconscious mind more fully by writing about your dreams and their connections with daily life.
An example of this comes from Paul Roland’s book, “Understanding Dreams: How to Influence, Record and Interpret Dreams.” He tells how John William Dunne, a mathematician of the early 20th century, offers connections between imagery, memory and actual subsequent occurrences, with his story about a man who dreamed of a crowd of people throwing burning cigarettes in his face before experiencing sparks flying towards him from a circular saw that hit a nail while he was working in his wood shop.
When you create links in the different levels of your mind, the waking and the sleeping thoughts that come to you respond better when you attempt to summon them.
Not only writing from memory works well, but remembering better as a result of writing works in a similar way. This leads to better awareness of predictions your mind is capable of, even when such premonitions may seem unlikely.
As in Dunne’s story, on the level of words and logic, the mad people’s sparks from lit cigarettes in a dream may not necessarily constitute a prediction of accidental sparks from one’s own circular saw. However, the emotion and the imagery expresses themselves without words, and therefore the logic of language becomes insignificant as sources of communication between your deeper, hidden knowledge of yourself and your normal awareness.
But once the link has been written down, the logical language connects the dream with the event and you can see more clearly how you invoke your own future and see yourself unfolding throughout life.
Reference: Roland, Paul. “Understanding Dreams: How to Influence, Record, and Interpret Dreams.” London: Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd., 2005. 18.
Sitting On The Table
In my experience, sitting down to write has felt very similar to sitting down to meditate.
In my grandmother’s parlance, Yiddish, the expression “Tuchas afen tish” means literally, “put your bottom (buttocks) on the table!” The rhetorical meaning of this has always echoed the more westernized, polite version, “put your cards on the table,” or “put up or shut up,” or “let’s get down to brass tacks,” or “make your full meaning clear!”
When I had bouts with school-related writing woes, my mother would say, “sit your tuchas down and knock something out!” This combination of grandma’s Yiddish and American colloquial punch gave me a lot of motivation, and felt like a kick in the pants! I appreciated and still feel so grateful for this advice.
Tell me, dear reader/writer, what position do you use for writing? Do you always sit? How often do you write standing up? How often do you write lying down? Do you prefer the floor, or a chair for sitting?
I would love to hear your expressions for sitting down to write. It takes the same discipline as sitting down to meditate, to be sure. But perhaps the putting of words on the page takes more discipline, because we use up so much energy generating language almost ALL of the time.
At this stage, sitting for meditation feels easier than sitting down to write, because meditation doesn’t use up that energy that producing language does. It gives me a chance to rest from the chatter of gabbing and blathering and talking so much. If my blog entries seem to be brief and concise, that results from my need for rest from language, and meditation gives me that rest.
Thank you for your patience over the last few months during my hiatus from this blog. As of this entry, I do intend to resume regular blog posts here, with a focus on the relationships between writing, meditation and communication and all it entails, including publishing and marketing.
Rosten, Leo. “The New Joys of Yiddish.” New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. 397-398
The Quick Fix: Meditating in School Settings
Practicing meditation doesn’t have to take a great deal of time. In a classroom, 5 minutes of guided deep breathing can make a big difference to students under pressure.
One instance of this occurred in a program for students from minority backgrounds who chose to prepare for the exam required to enter a pre-medical school program. The teachers decided to initiate a regular, 5-minute session of guided deep breathing at the beginning of each class.
Their study showed that the breathing, with eyes closed, and the mental focus on relaxing imagery, helped their testing experience and performance significantly.
Numerous other studies of students in academically and culturally challenging environments show similar positive findings about meditation. As writers, it makes sense to draw from this wealth of energy that remains versatile and applicable in practical settings.
Paul, Gina, Elam, Barb and Verhulst, Steven. “A Longitudinal Study of Students’ Perceptions of Using Deep Breathing Meditation to Reduce Testing Stress.” Teaching and Learning in Medicine. 19.3 (2007): 287-292.
Forgetting to Meditate
As writers write, moments of contemplation occur frequently, either planned or unplanned by the writer or writing teacher. Such moments, paying attention to thoughts, sensations and feelings within the writer’s inner consciousness, already constitute an implicit form of meditation.
Intentionally using classroom time to create such moments and extend them, with planning, forethought, and for the purpose of an enhanced sense of personal agency, a clearer connection with the inner self of the writer, comprises a working definition of meditation for the context of composition courses.
Without such spontaneous or planned moments, academic writing style can sound particularly disconnected from the self, and authors must therefore struggle laboriously, often failing to achieve clear meaning and/or a strong sense of ethos, or voice.
Why, then, would composition pedagogy experts disregard more intentional uses of meditation techniques in composition pedagogy, when such a teaching tool may only serve to enhance an activity that already naturally occurs when people write?
Upon initial research into literature on the confluence of these two processes, it has been readily apparent that meditation has played a role in enhancing personal agency within the context of composition at least since the time of the ancient Greeks, and continues to facilitate the development of the self in composition courses.
The research I completed for my Ph. D. dissertation project reviews theoretical and practical perspectives on the role of meditation in the writing process and investigates the potential and actual value of intentional meditative practices in writing pedagogy.
Past Haunting- A Memory Problem
As you develop your sense of writers’ forms, you can work within a network of memories to channel past experiences into a variety of interdependent parts.
To what degree does a piece of writing need to draw on your memory? It depends on what you intend that piece to do, and what form would work best to do that!
For stories, vague memories might take shape in unintended ways. For essays, the motivation to say something to certain audiences might be a specific, troubling or inspiring experience.
For a memoir, the whole narrative may find its energy within your memory banks. For journal entries that stay private, the recent past may be fresh enough to fill the page without long-term connections to older memories.
Memory provides a necessary part of the research process. In order to form conclusions based on data, bits of data must be remembered, and bigger pictures of a grander scheme of things have to be joined and compiled via overall impressions taken from readings and live observations.
What do you use your memory for most often? How could you expand your writing repertoire by drawing on more parts of your memory?
It is likely that most writers have found a comfortable niche, but the memory can extend a writer’s comfort zone beyond old boundaries. Through experimentation, writers can find ways to use memory to write more in many previously unexplored genres.