Before and after the thunderstorm

IMG_25July16RainBlue walls, red curtains, and gold-framed mirrors that reflect who is up on stage behind the microphone. Clothes damp, shoes soaked, a number of us had gathered to hear the Bennington Writers fiction reading at Cornelia Street Cafe while a thunderstorm raged over New York City.

IMG_25July16Reading

When the storm hit earlier in the day, I watched the sky cast charcoal gray from my perch on the eighth floor at the Center for Fiction. I headed out onto the Midtown streets joining the herd of commuters rushing to get underground before the clouds broke open again. I passed a man selling umbrella’s for five dollars and didn’t listen to the voice that said, “buy an umbrella, you may need it.”

At a West 4th street subway exit, slowed down by a line of people reluctant to go out into the torrential rain, I looked for another way out but this was it. As I made my way to the front of the line, a man played a lively guitar that matched the mood.

With ten minutes left to the reading, I surfaced risking a good soak but I found my way to scaffolding and eventually an umbrella as my partner showed up just in time.

During the event, I went first and read an excerpt from my short story, “Exposed.” At a transition in the story, as if on cue, thunder boomed, lightning crackled—I paused to let the storm have its space. Then I continued on reading a flashback about crossed wires and mixed messages.

IMG_25July16Sun

After the reading, the sun broke through the clouds. Buildings lit up in a warm, orange glow. We walked a stretch along Bleeker street on to the next destination for the evening.

What did the storm signify? Was it meant to be foreboding and fearsome? In my experiences, rain has often been a blessing. Rain has arrived on days filled with happiness like the day I got married.

The storm last night provided a measure of contrast, a way to be present in the experience of the evening rather than getting caught up in the flow of traffic, pre-event tensions, or tangential thinking. It was a much needed cooling down. It took nervous energy and turned it into awe and a bit of glee.

Contrast

Enter stillness to practice listening

IMGtreesBerkshires2On a stretch of highway near Great Barrington, MA, I was called to stop at a dirt road framed by trees (pictured above). On one side a cemetery hid in the shade and on the other a green, grassy lawn stretched into the sunlight. The road felt majestic like the trees were tall knights guarding a secret passage. And the road’s existence itself felt hidden, especially to me as someone who wasn’t from the area but rather enjoying an extended stay one hot July.

Very few people traveled the road. It was quiet. Surrounded by these tall, beautiful trees I felt an invitation to be still, to listen.

When I look at images from my time on this small stretch of road, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by David Wagoner, Lost, from Collected Poems 1956-1976, Indiana University Press.

It begins,

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.

Reading the poem alone brings a sense of stillness and calm but above that it captures the knowingness of the trees and what exists in the space of the present moment. 

Read the entire poem on the Writer’s Almanac site.

Pensive

Books that fill the sky with color

IMG_MayaAngelouSky (1)Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.

It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.

“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”

She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.

By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.

Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.
South

On habits of highly productive writers

Puddy napping

My old cat Puddy taught me how to nap and take breaks throughout the day.

Napping was not on a recent list of habits of highly productive writers featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education but I think it should be. Napping is a practice in letting go of any judgment about doing nothing. When you sit down at your desk and stare at a blank screen you are sitting down at your desk and staring at a blank screen—not doing much. But that’s okay. In that space, the mind rests and reboots, if you allow it. Just like you need breaks between paragraphs, spaces between words—you need naps even if you just close your eyes and rest your head in the palm of your hand for a few moments of breathing.

Looking closely at the list, however, I can see that napping could fall under, “They know that a lot of important stuff happens when they’re not ‘working.’” But in this case the author Rachel Toor refers to doing task-like errands not napping.

Find space between all of that productivity to rest the mind and body and breathe.

To see the full list, visit: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Habits-of-Highly/150053/

Allow space to create

Rustic Writers' Retreat Hike

A cow stands guard at a clearing in the woods in Mount Vernon, New Jersey.

I noticed the cow standing guard at a clearing in the woods. He had wandered into the forest and watched as we trekked to an area of moss-covered rocks. It was sometime after 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I had led a group on a hike during a recent Jersey City Writers rustic retreat in Mount Vernon, New Jersey. About 11 of us were staying in a farmhouse for a weekend writing immersion.

Could we be as diligent and disciplined with our writing as the cows were with their grass chewing and grazing? Could we return to the same field day after day? What these cows had was incredible amounts of space to go about their work and that’s what we were attempting to create for ourselves. But creating space to write requires more than just showing up to a retreat, your chair, laptop, or notebook for that matter. Landing in a scenic, quiet setting doesn’t instantly bring words to the page.

You have to allow for the space that comes from just being. You have to let go of all the distractions that keep your mind cluttered and allow for that clearing in the woods to manifest inside. I found that the moments I spent hiking through the woods, observing the night sky, or just listening and watching the cows as they pretended to be busy were just as valuable to creating space as sitting down in front of a blank screen.

Yoga and writing: ignite your creative fire

Yoga and writing

Spark the imagination. Invite your muse. Listen for your authentic voice in a state of inner stillness.

I look forward to guiding a workshop this weekend, “Yoga and Writing: Ignite Your Creative Fire,” which is being held in collaboration with Jersey City Writers. The workshop brings together my two favorite worlds. It will offer writers a chance to step away from the keyboard and take an extended break to unblock stagnant energy through gentle movement. It will also help get their creative juices flowing through basic yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Finally, I’m going to teach a few poses writers can do at home to soothe tight shoulders and tense wrists.

The workshop will be held Saturday, May 17 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Yoga Shunya, which is located at 275 Grove St., 3rd Fl, Jersey City.

This is beginner-level workshop. Open to all levels and new and/or experienced writers. Wear comfortable clothing. Bring a pen and a notepad. Bring a yoga mat, if you have one. $10 cash at door

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Workshop hosted by Adriana Rambay Fernández, RYT-200. A Kripalu-certified teacher, Adriana offers gentle and moderate classes that support the process of self-discovery and healing through guided meditation, asana, and pranayama. Through an open, receptive, and steady approach she guides students to a place of inner balance, harmony, and union. She believes yoga can unlock inner creativity, healing, and a deepened sense of awareness.

To register, email: AdrianaRambayFernandez [at] gmail.com. Or sign-up on MeetUp.

Writing from the sky

Views of the George Washington Bridge.

Hovering above the George Washington Bridge.

Take to the sky on a helicopter ride for some writing inspiration.

When I did a few months ago, I experienced awe and excitement at incredible heights. My mind’s eye took in the expansiveness of the New York City area as the helicopter made its way up the Hudson River.

I took the excursion on a beautiful, sunny day when the views were crisp and clear. Tall buildings multiplied into small squares, trees resembled bushes, and the Statue of Liberty shrunk to miniature.

Sometimes it is a good idea to get out of your writing comfort zone and experience how your writing can take a different direction inspired by an unfamiliar setting. When you take to the sky and have the opportunity to observe the mechanics of life on the ground from a distance it not only shifts your perspective but also sharpens your senses.

I had the opportunity to explore the sky with Helicopter Flight Services for a feature in Jersey City Magazine. My goal was to capture a sense of the full experience from takeoff to landing.

I took away a new understanding of what it feels like to hover in the air—that state of being suspended without the fear of falling.

It surprisingly feels like being held, secure in a transparent capsule, similar to what I imagined Wonder Woman experienced as she flew her invisible airplane.

 

Helicopter Tour Helicopter Tour Adriana Helicopter

 

 

 

 

Take a look at the full story, “Hovering above the Hudson: Helicopter tour offers inspiring views.”

 

Hovering above the HudsonHovering above the Hudson