Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Spiritual Art of Memoir


I just returned from a workshop at Yogaville, an ashram in Virginia called The Spiritual Art of Memoir, led by Joan Borysenko.

We discussed the invisible thread of grace that runs through memoirs. For example, spiritual awakening was the invisible thread running through Mark Matousek's memoir Sex, Death, and Enlightenment, while search for love and transformation of self was the invisible thread running through Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. (Someone also mentioned resilience and the kindness of strangers for that book.)


Joan urged us all to take the VIA Character Strengths Test, (which is free to take) and my top five qualities were:
  • Fairness (which I take to mean seeing the inherent worth of every person no matter their race, religion, ability, economic status, etc.)
  • Curiosity
  • Social Intelligence (Empathy)
  • Kindness 
  • Love of Learning
She then urged us to think about how those characteristics were either inherent in is or perhaps they developed due to life circumstances.



 The crux of the class was an exercise where we pictured our life as a river in which there are:

  • rapids: places where we move forward
  • rich deltas: the soil is rich, slow waters, things are growing and healing
  • whirlpools: trauma, getting stuck
  • crystal pools: rest a while, sweet time, rest and renewal
  • narrow places: where life feels squeezed
  • marooned - thrown out of the river completely
She also asked us to split our lives up into 7 year increments and think of/write down:
  1. the most important stories of the time
  2. what strengths did we use or develop, what insights or wisdom
  3.  emotions
  4.  main characters: angels, mentors, sacred enemies
  5. choice points: path changes: when we made a decision which changed the path

 They handed out paper, crayons and colored pencils for us to work on our rivers. I was not able to get into it too much in class, where we only had small chunks of time to write, but talking to and seeing what others had done inspired me, and I've been working on mine since getting home.


Then we briefly discussed ways to organize our memoirs: around whirlpools, characters, etc, and broke up into groups again to share any "aha" moments, which again was inspiring and helpful.


In addition to this wonderful workshop, I participated in ashram activities over the weekend: meditation, yoga, simple vegetarian meals, Satsang, ashram tour, everything was amazing. I can't wait to go back.

I need to thank Pittsburgh Greater Arts Council for the grant which gave me the opportunity to experience this amazing place and take this enriching workshop, which will definitely help me move out of the whirlpool I was stuck in with my memoir back into the rapids.

I will try to write another post about the Satchidananda Ashram. But for now, I will leave you with a picture of the LOTUS Shrine (Light of Truth Universal Shrine), where I meditated on Saturday:


Monday, May 1, 2017

New Vegan Restaurant In Pittsburgh: Onion Maiden


There's a new vegan restaurant in Pittsburgh, and it's in my neck of the woods!

Across town live the wonderful B52 and Apteka (which I've yet to try), so I was so excited to learn that Onion Maiden is in Allentown, on a road I drive down almost daily (Warrington Ave.)


As you may have guessed from the name, it is a heavy-metal music themed vegan restaurant. Metal is not my preferred style of music, but I figured as long as they didn't have the music blaring I'd be ok. Not only did they not have the music blaring, while I was there I heard a couple of Smith's songs! (I love The Smiths.)

The food was delicious, I loved the atmosphere (and you'll love it more - I expect - if you are into metal music, it is filled with posters of metal bands), and the people working there were lovely as well.

I had the McMaiden Sandwich, which had a chickpea "egg" and cashew cheese:


Dave had the Matcha Waffle (his sides were on another plate, not pictured, but they were the same kale and potatoes):

We also got some donuts to bring home and share with our daughter:

We went for Saturday brunch:
I am sure we'll be back!


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pittsburgh Bird Walks

Yesterday and today I went on morning bird walks, yesterday with the Three Rivers Birding Club in Frick Park, and today with Kate St. John in Schenley Park.

Both walks were amazing, though today's walk at Schenley Park I got much better looks at quite a few more birds. A list of birds I saw yesterday and today:

Red tailed hawk with chipmunk, Frick Park

  1. Red tailed hawk (In Frick we saw it eating a chipmunk, in Schenley we saw one in her nest)
  2. Screech Owl (Frick)
  3. Peregrine Falcon flying around and perching on the Cathedral of Learning, where they are nesting
  4. Yellow rumped warbler, male and female (Schenley)
  5. Palm warbler (Schenley)
  6. Song Sparrow
  7. Starling
  8. Grackle
  9. Robin
  10. Hermit Thrush (Frick)
  11. Ovenbird (was seen by most, but I didn't see it, Schenley)
  12. Wood Thrush (I saw it fly but didn't get a good look at it, Schenley)
  13. Rose breasted grosbeak (I love these!), male and female (Schenley)
  14. Female red winged blackbird (heard the male)
  15. Green heron (got a great look around the lake in Schenley park)
  16. Great blue heron (flying overhead in Frick)
  17. Black Throated Green Warbler - a first for me
  18. White throated sparrow (Frick)
  19. White crowned sparrow (Frick)
  20. Chipping Sparrow (Frick)
  21. Brown headed cowbird (Schenley)
  22. House finch eating dandelion seeds
  23. House wren
  24. Carolina chicadee
  25. Red bellied woodpecker
  26. Phoebe
  27. Baltimore Oriole (Schenley)
  28. Warbling Vireo (Schenley)
  29. Cardinals
  30. Ruby Crowned Kinglet (Schenley, I didn't get the best look)
That's a lot of birds!

The Screech Owl hanging out in the trees at Frick Park:


Friday, March 3, 2017

Return To Wildacres!


I am going back to Wildacres this year and I couldn't be more excited! I am so happy that I was accepted for a two-week residency this year, and I hope to go in the fall.


I plan to continue work I began last year on my memoir about my daughter Molly, hopefully with new writing dredged from deep within when I take Mirabai Starr's workshop "Writing Your Story of Loss and Transformation" this spring.

I hope that Mergatroyd, the spider who shared my cabin with me last year, is gone, at least far far away from any cabin to which I am assigned. And all her sisters and brothers as well. I don't think my nerves can handle sharing the space with another giant fist-sized spider.


Other than never wishing to meet Mergatroyd (and her friends and relations) again, I cannot wait for my next visit to Wildacres. I am so grateful they have taken me back for another residency!


Thank you, Wildacres!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Thank You Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

I am so happy to announce that I have won a grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council!

The grant will enable me to take the workshop: Writing Your Story of Loss and Transformation with Mirabai Starr. The workshop will help me move forward with my memoir, which I began last year during my residency at Wildacres, about my life with my daughter Molly, who died in 2007.


You can find all the grants awarded from 2004 to the present here.

Funding for the arts is so important. 

I am so grateful to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Year in Review

First of all, just so you know, I looked it up: and both "nos" and "noes" are acceptable spellings for the plural of "no" and "yeses" and "yesses" for the plural of "yes."

Now that we got that out of the way: yes, this year I did wade through many nos, but I got four amazing, wonderful yeses.

One thing I learned: while the nos are hard when you get them, like "ouch" hard, they are also gone in a second. As soon as you move on and do something else, you have forgotten it. But the yeses live on, and are so much bigger. So although I only read about shooting for 100 nos about a month ago (it is my new goal for 2017), I did get about 25 rejections (out of 41 things sent out, I haven't heard back from everything yet). But I got four wonderful yeses and they really made my year.

So as a year in review, here are the yeses I received:

1. Wildacres Writing Residency.



In January of last year, as my New Year's Resolution - the first one I actually kept - I decided to take myself seriously as a writer. I would apply to things. I would send stuff out REGULARLY. I would not be deterred (for years) by a "no." After reading this article on writing residencies, I applied to Wildacres (application deadline January 15.) In March I heard I was accepted and in July I spent the most amazing week there, completing the first draft of a memoir, and writing and finishing other short stories, essays, and poems. I also sketched daily, hiked in the gorgeous mountains and to a waterfall, ate wild berries and mushrooms, made new friends and generally had an amazing time. One week was too short. If I apply again, I am definitely asking for two.

2. Readers Write Essay in The Sun Magazine: First Impressions, November 2016 issue

Another determination I made was to submit essays to the Readers Write section of The Sun Magazine.  Each month they provide a prompt and you can write a personal essay using that prompt. The prompt is often just one or two words, leaving it open ended. Starting with the Feb 1 deadline, I sent an essay almost every month in 2016. The one I sent in April (deadline May 1) was accepted to be printed in the November issue. I heard about the acceptance soon after coming back from my residency at Wildacres.

3. My essay: Time and Space to Write, about my writing residency, was published in Literary Mama blog, October 24, 2016.

4. Artist Opptortunity Grant through Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council 

I won a grant! This grant will help me get to the Bahamas and take a workshop "Write Your Story of Loss and Transformation" with Mirabai Starr. The yes came in 2016 so I am including it here, but the workshop is not until May 2017.

Lots of stuff to look forward to in 2017! My writing workshop in May, 100 rejections, and hopefully, maybe, another yes or two.


Monday, October 31, 2016

A Whirlwind Wrap Up Of My 31 Day World Tour


Well, I did it! Around The World In 31 Days! I wrote every day of October.

I started in Northampton with carrot juice, went to Germany where I almost couldn't buy myself a pair of men's shoes, was called a Stupido Turista! for just barely skirting getting ripped off in a train station, and went to Rouen, France, to learn that Joan of Arc was not burned because she people thought she was a witch or even for impersonating a man, she was burned for the crime of wearing men's clothes! Maybe there was something more than fashion police at work in Germany when I tried to buy men's shoes!!

I had my sins washed away in the Vatican walking through the Holy Doors, saw a marionette opera in Belgium, and drank coffee in Stars Hollow to celebrate Gilmore Girls with the rest of the country.

I did all sorts of things in Pittsburgh, including eating an Iroquois lunch at Conflict Kitchen, found wild edible mushrooms in the woods, and learned about the plight of refugees from the Doctors Without Borders traveling exhibit, Forced From Home.

I went to England as an exchange student in high school, (revisited) and probably went to Quebec City with my French Club, where I tried escargo for the first (and last) time after having sipped some wine.

I biked to DC, faced my fear of spiders in New Mexico, found armfuls of sand dollars in Wrightsville Beach, NC.

I hiked up Mt. Jefferson in New Hampshire, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and Delicate Arch in Utah.

I reviewed some travel movies and even gave you my number one travel tip.

I mused about birds and magic, remembered going to Cooperstown as a kid and Nashville just this spring.

I'm so glad I took the 31 Day Writing Challenge, I'm already looking forward to next year! And now, onward to November, and Nanowrimo!!

Ciao,

Melissa
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


This is the last essay of my 31 Day Writing Challenge: To write about any one topic for the 31 days of October. You can sign up to participate here.

I've chosen to write about places I've been for the next 31 days, you can find the whole list of essays here(Around the World in 31 Days.)


Note: All the pictures in the article are from pixabay, and are "Public Domain, free for commercial use, no attribution required."