It is no coincidence that my writing and creativity workshop, “Writing for Your Life,” takes place on Saturday, March 19, the weekend of the spring equinox. When Michele Engoran, director of the Center for Relaxation and Healing in Plainsboro, and I were discussing dates for the class, I went to my calendar, landed on March 19, and said “perfect.”
Spring symbolizes rebirth, coming out of the cold into the warmth, turning a positive corner. It’s change, and it always feels good.
This is the essence of the class — opening up to fresh perspectives, inner growth, getting excited about creativity. And about living, for that matter. Writing can be a kind of meditation, a practice that not only facilitates a sense of well being, but also awakens the senses.
I can thank a couple of other writers and wise teachers for giving me the opportunity to view the craft this way. One is Dorothea Brande, whose book “Becoming a Writer” is just as relevant now as it was when it was published in 1934. But it was Natalie Goldberg’s 1986 book “Writing Down the Bones” that really sparked me. It still does. In fact, I just opened it up and found her sentence, “A writer must say ‘yes’ to life, to all of life.”
Developing this course has been a small way for me to say yes to life. I had been thinking about it for years, but when I was working full time, first for the Philadelphia Inquirer and then the Princeton Packet Group, I didn’t have the energy to go forward. In December of 2008 I was downsized, an unfortunate circumstance that became fortunate in that I was given the opportunity to freelance. I also had the space to stir the creative cauldron and conjure some of my own projects and endeavors.
I had developed courses in journalism and creative non-fiction, which I have been teaching at Bucks County Community College and will be teaching at Burlington County College. Now the pieces of the “Writing for Your Life!” workshop were coming together.
I first talked about it in the spring of 2009 with Darby Mackenzie Line, a friend who helped get Onsen For All in Kingston off the ground. She opened the door for me there and I taught the first incarnation of this workshop in January, 2010.
With my husband, Bryan Grigsby, a photographer and photo editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, I fashioned one part of the class together. It’s a game that stimulates the writing of rich, quirky, multi-sensory sentences and brings a touch of the Dada or Beat esthetic to your writing. This is also just plain fun. We laughed as we created it. I didn’t want to stop, and that was a sign I’d tapped into — without sounding too West Coast — very affirmative energy, the kind you get from regular meditation.
We’ll talk about this too – the idea of getting into “the zone,” where words, sentences, and thoughts flow easily, magically.
Teaching and coaching is a fork in the road from arts and features reporting, which I’ve been doing for more than 30 years.
What’s refreshing for me about teaching is that it’s social, it’s extroverted. I am a reserved person and I spend a lot of time alone. Although working from home is a great pleasure, sometimes the only creatures I talk to while Bryan is at work are my two cats, and they don’t say much back. So I get out there with my classes and I can speak and be heard, and network.
The bio I wrote for the workshop mentions that I am a “lifelong spiritual seeker.” “Writing for Your Life!” grew in part from this seeking. Meditation and visualization are part of my search and both led to the creation of this workshop.
For years, I saw myself stepping from behind the desk and reaching out to people, pursuing a different but complementary career path. That’s how positive change and growth begins: with an idea, daydream, or visualization.
By the way, March 19 is also the Full Sap Moon according to “The Farmer’s Almanac,” a time especially favorable for expansion and tapping into creativity.
Susan Van Dongen, a frequent contributor to U.S. 1, earned her bachelor’s in English and music from Susquehanna University in 1981. She lives in Bordentown. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.