Start weaving your fabric.

On Sunday night, I finished teaching a six-week personal writing class, and decided to close with this quote from Dani Shapiro's Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (pp. 192):

"Every writer has a fabric. The most intense moments of our lives seem to sharpen and raise themselves as if written in Braille -- this is where our themes begin to take hold. Explore deeply enough and you will find strange and startling questions to grapple with on the page.

We do not choose this fabric as if browsing the aisle at Bloomingdale's. ...Whether or not we are fond of our tiny corner of the universe, it's all we've got. ...It is the truest lesson I know about writing -- and about life -- that we must always move in the direction of our own true calling, not anyone else's."

I had scribbled lots of underlines and stars around this passage, which appears towards the end of Shapiro's reflective memoir on the writing journey. (And I felt lucky enough to get to hear her speak at Goddard College last summer.) Frantic underlining/starring tends to be my response when I read something that I feel deeply in my gut -- mainly because it's something I've wanted to put words to for a long time. Every writer has a fabric. Yes, Dani!

Of course, you can go even further than that: Every person has a fabric.

So does that make us all writers? I think that it does, but of course it's up to each individual to put that into practice. And hey, maybe you express and explore your fabric through a different creative medium. Maybe words stop you in your tracks the way numbers stop me. Maybe painting or sewing or dancing is your way of processing the knots and frays of your own personal fabric. That's fantastic!

But if you're thinking, "Hey, I don't know if I have an artistic, creative way that I automatically turn to in order to process my life..."

Or, "I've only ever written for school or work -- I'm not sure that I would even know how to begin to use writing to explore my life's fabric..."

Or, "I'm so busy as it is," or, "Are you kidding me? I'm not a writer!..."

Take a beat. A moment. Five minutes.

Think on your fabric. Scribble bits of it down on a spare scrap of paper.

Atlanta, born and raised

Big extended family

Church community

Goodie two shoes; scared to get in trouble

Sick a lot/asthma as a kid

Shy, except with family/at church

Perfectionist older child

Voracious reader

... And that's just the beginning. The first layer of my fabric. Actually, I suppose it goes deeper than that -- I could have started with the base that was laid before me. Great-grandparents: Irish immigrant minister + missionary born in China, judge in Savannah, mill manager in Alabama...

Memories, character traits, experiences, sorrows, joys, interactions -- some small, some significant, all part of weaving our personal fabric, piecing it together, and claiming it as our own.

I think that often, it's the claiming that can be the hardest part. Putting your life down on paper is an act of ownership, which can be scary, even if we're the only one who will ever see the scrawl on the page. 

And yet, if you have courage to stake your claim, to put pen to paper, I believe that you will only grow stronger.

It's been a pleasure to watch and listen to the adults in my class grow more certain of their authentic voices, exploring where they've been and where they are in life. "I'm not a writer," one of them told me once. "This is interesting to me, but you all will probably think it's boring," another said in prefacing a piece. And as soon as they've finished reading out loud (another courageous action!), I cannot jump in quickly enough. "Are you kidding me? That was amazing! The opposite of boring! Your emotion, your voice... so strong! You are a writer!"

It never fails. This work is a gift.

You have a fabric. Precious and priceless. Your very own. Have you started weaving?

P.S. Have questions? Want to start weaving/writing? Email clasbury10 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Words on the page.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a tweet: "Any book recommendations teachers of writing or any adult could use to cultivate their own writing journey?"

Answer: Of COURSE! Here are five suggestions -- four of them books -- from off the top of my head. There are so many writing books out there, many that I haven't read, and I bet that if anyone else wrote this post, they would list five different ones. What are your favorite recs? Would love to see them in the comments.

5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I will be honest and say that I read this one several years ago, and parts of it blur in my memory, but I do remember greatly enjoying it. As one who's never been a big horror/suspense reader, this is the only Stephen King book I've read, and I was still fascinated by his tales of how he created his classics -- and, of course, his perspective as a writer. It's wonderfully readable.

4. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Speaking of readability, Karr's latest book (she's also written the best-selling memoirs The Liars' Club and Lit) also ranks high. She teaches writing at Syracuse, and has put many of her best lessons into this book, while also giving examples from her own literary life.

3. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. This is the first book that my first graduate school advisor had all of his memoir students read. It's a fascinating exploration of personal writing's internal and external structure. For me, at the time that I read it, Gornick's reflections on writing voice were most helpful. The narrator of a memoir needed to be "me but not me," Gornick said; this was a phrase that I would return to many times as I hashed out my manuscript. No matter what type of writing you're doing or your ultimate goal, this book is worth a read. BrainPickings has a great article on it, as well, to give you a further sense of the content.

2. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This book is a 12-week guide for artists of any kind (humans of any kind, really), meant to spark your creativity and self-discovery. I started TAW in August 2012. A couple of months later, I wrote: "I'm currently in the midst of Week 8. There are a lot of questions and exercises and thought processes to go through, and I've enjoyed that. Most importantly, this program has taught me to write morning pages. Three pages every morning of whatever spills out of my mind. Even though I've journaled continuously for ten years, this is probably the most honest writing I've ever allowed myself to produce. And I feel like it's opened me up off the page too, with the desire to talk and laugh and be earnest and true with myself and others. Easier said than done, but it's a start."

1. Writing in the morning. This isn't a book, but it stems from The Artist's Way (as you can see above), and I also think that all of the books in the world can't replace the act of physically writing (by hand) at least once a day. I know this because I didn't do it for nearly two years, overrun with work + school + life. I missed it, but I didn't know how to return to it. It felt like a big thing to return to, and it may feel like a big thing to start, if you've never done it before. But suddenly, I started up again. Now I sit on the edge of the bed, set my clock for 3-5 minutes (depending on how late I've woken up), open to a fresh blank page, and write whatever comes out. Sometimes I write two pages, other times (like today), it's just one. Sometimes it has a flow and makes sense, other times it doesn't. And I hardly think about it. The words just appear, moving me along with them.

This has become such an important practice for me. Not only does it make me write regularly, making me a better writer by habit ("butt in chair," Anne Lamott says, and I have a love/hate relationship with the fact that she's right), but it clears my brain for the day ahead. It allows me to write down goals, responses, plans (if that's what happens to appear on the page)... or just random emotions, experiences, questions. This PsychCentral article talks a lot about the benefits of this type of therapeutic writing, in case you need more convincing. (Besides, who doesn't need to just write "Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap." every once in awhile?)

In 2012, I also wrote this: "In The Artist's Way Cameron talks a lot about the concept of synchronicity, urging us to notice how elements and events and relationships in our lives become intertwined or connected in ways we did not expect or plan."

I think that my daily writing practice also gives me a chance to recognize these moments of connection, on my own or with others. And you never know when you'll stumble into something that needs more than a page or two to be written about. That's where the books can help, encourage, and guide. But ultimately, nothing can beat the simple act of putting words on the page.

You can do it. Start here.

Social Media Sabbath.

It feels so good to quiet this part of my brain, which seems sometimes to take over every part.

I value social media and the connections it can build, the real-life relationships it can help sustain, the information it can offer, the laughs it can provide. But there's a reason I put "can" in front of every one of those verbs, and it's because there's a tipping point. As someone who works the social media circuit all day every day for both professional work and personal appreciation, it all starts to pile up.

So on most Sundays this spring, I've been taking a Social Media Sabbath. Yes, admittedly, sometimes I post a picture - and you'll almost definitely get a "Winter is coming, y'all!!" status update next Sunday - but I don't hang around to see the number of likes or comments. Except for those random moments here and there, I'm off the Facebook + Instagram + Twitter grid.

You'd be surprised how lovely and calming it feels. I soon forget that I'm missing updates from people, and I don't even give myself the option to check while I'm "bored" or have nothing else going on. What's more, my mind has taken quickly to the idea that this is off-limits on this day.

I can tell that the habit is building, because it feels good. It feels like sitting in front of the water, being lulled into rest by the gentle waves. What's going on far away, even next door, doesn't matter.

I don't need to know everything. I don't need to say everything. I can let a whole 24+ hours go by and live life in real time.

And when Monday comes, I don't find that I even rush right back into it. It comes, but slowly. Once I dive in, I again see the value the good elements of social media (and somehow the detriments stand out even sharper too...), and I can prep myself for another week.

Yes, this is a key way of how we connect now. But what freedom there is in having an hour-long coffee catch up with a friend, going to a committee meeting, taking a walk with my husband, writing some new material, listening to the writing of others, even drifting off to sleep - and not feeling that overtaking habit of pushing a button, glancing down and doing a quick scroll-through of other peoples' lives.

I've got my own life, a lovely one. I'll keep sharing some of its moments with you, and I appreciate the moments you choose to share with me. But on Sunday, I'm hitting the Pause button to enjoy the lapping of the waves.