Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

I have been keeping a journal since I was nine years old. And I’ve been writing poems and stories at least as long. I memorized my first poem—“Little Tree” by e.e. cummings—when I was 11 because I wanted to be able to partake of the magic of reciting a poem.

Writing helps me make sense of the world, and keeps me in touch with my feelings, thoughts, desires, and needs. So that I can better flow with my feelings and meet my needs in healthy ways.

Writing helps me uncover my dreams and the path to living them. Next steps and solutions come to me. But, as much as I rely on my daily journal practice as one key to my well-being, writing for me is about far more than just journaling.

Through writing, we can engage in the joyful, challenging, astonishing act of art-making, shaping words on the page to create magic. That act is profoundly healing, life-giving, and life-affirming. And, it can create worlds, not just on the page, but in our lives.

Powerful language can call us to make changes, develop compassion and understanding, inspire us to new visions.

There’s a reason that the word “spell” means both to spell the letters in a word and to cast a spell or create enchantment.

There is magic power in language used artfully and crafted with care.

Writing in this way connects me to my Deep Self and to all of Life. Inner wisdom and guidance flows through me. Wild imagination flows through me. Playful silliness flows through me. Buried emotions flow through me. Brilliant ideas come to me. Healing and mysterious language appears seemingly out of nowhere. I discover realms both within and without that I didn’t know were there.

That’s why I return to writing again and again as a place of solace and healing and connection. And as a place of wonder and astonishment.

Writing and sharing my writing gives me a voice to connect with others. It creates a bridge out of the separation and loneliness and despair that can overtake me in these hard times. It helps me sort through the overwhelm.

And when I hear the words of others, I am reminded of our shared humanity.

For all these reasons and more, I love to write and share my words and hear the imaginative words of others. It is a powerful balm in these times and also a powerful act of rebellion against the life-negating powers that seem to have too much sway in our world.

We aren’t helpless at all. We are powerful beings. One of our greatest powers is the act of creation. We need to call on this power in these changing times, so that we help shape a world we wish to live in. We do this one gentle word at a time.

If you would like to engage in creative play with me and others, I invite you to join me for Freedom to Write. Whether you are an established writer or a beginner, I believe you will find the process deep, rich, surprising, inspiring, and nourishing. A weekly haven for your creative spirit.

Dreaming New Creations In My Work

Dreaming New Creations In My Work

A profound process of dreaming and creation is going on.

I am deep in an incubation period on so many levels. Often I sit down to share some of it with you, and I fall silent.

When you are in the cocoon, and your old body has dissolved into formless goo, and your new wings have not yet formed, it is hard to give language to the experience. A profound metamorphosis is taking place.

Birthing the Book Project

First of all, I’ve been writing a book on creativity that grows out of my 18 years of teaching. I’ve been working on the book off and on for three years, but the last several months have been a super intensive push.

I am simultaneously writing a proposal, so I can attract a publisher for the book. Book proposals are creations in themselves, typically ranging 40-100 pages, including sample chapters. Writing the proposal has caused a major re-ordering of the book, deepening into how it wants to flow. To get to that has involved a lot of thinking, some hair-pulling, and a crazy amount of time. And then there’s editing the sample chapters.

Many days I dive in and look up three hours later, glazed.

But there’s more.

Dreaming New Structures to Hold Expansion

For months I’ve been dreaming new structures for my work to hold the growth that is calling me.

I’m feeling tugged at by the soul of my work to grow in all kinds of ways. And to prepare for that growth with a strong foundation and new containers to welcome expansion on many fronts.

I’m dreaming up a membership community—a sort of gym membership for your creative life—that will provide ongoing monthly guidance, inspiration, workshops, gatherings, conversation, and camaraderie to profoundly support you in your creativity and in living your heart’s dreams.

I’m also listening deeply for the ways I feel called to expand my work to support greater collective healing and co-creating a more loving, just, sustainable world for all.

And I am trying to bring my three online platforms—Brilliant Playground, my author website, and my Patreon into one home. This is a bewildering challenge. Yet I feel stretched too thin by having three sites. And too many of you are missing out on valuable content that I share in one place but not the others.

I need to entwine my life as a poet and artist, and my work as a firekeeper and Goddess-devotee, more closely into my work as a teacher, to let them inform and bless each other and you.

So, this is part of the very slow birthing of a new website and new offerings, new ways of working and playing in the world.

Patience and Faith Are Needed

As I go through all this inner and outer change—navigating as we all are the shifting sands of our world in its death and birth throes—it is hard for me to keep generating as much content or as many offerings for all of you.

I hope you will be patient with me. I am so eager to share the next beautiful evolution of my work with you. To invite you into deeper creativity and connection.

Stay tuned! It’s going to be quite an adventure.

Meanwhile, if you had one thing you would love to receive from a creative membership community, what would that be? What would nourish and support you best? What support do you need in your creative life?

With love,

Maxima

Photo of robin’s eggs by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Creating the World We Wish to Inhabit

Creating the World We Wish to Inhabit

I wrote this post during my free Write Together! event in June. It’s a taste of what can happen when we co-create together and an invitation to keep creating the world we wish to inhabit.

Right now I am sitting in a Zoom room with twenty-one other souls, whispering to ourselves and this beautiful, wrecked world, pouring what’s inside into our notebooks, delving and diving to find whatever pearls are here.

We are here to use writing to uncover our grief, fear and anger and our hope for a better world, to find our way together. We are here to envision and co-create the world we wish to inhabit.

It’s a bewildering adventure, this business of living and of creating, but Rumi insists, in the poem of his I read this morning, that the soul started singing when it took on a body. Singing not weeping.

Celebration may be our greatest capacity as humans, and our best means to create the world we wish to inhabit. Singing up the land is what the Australian aborigines call it, their part in the ongoing work of creation. Our part. Celebration and creativity, exceptional human abilities and gifts.

And so here we are, twenty-two beautiful souls aboard this temporary ark, this craft we hope to sail to where? To greener shores, a land where love rules, where all life is cared for and honored. Am I a dreamer? You bet.

I believe in the inherent beauty of the world, in art, love, the goodness inside of humans, the possibility of each one shining forth. So I am here, guiding this little ark. In spite of all the obstacles.

I am often full of doubt, afraid, lost, and overwhelmed by the horror and meanness of which we humans are so frequently capable, the utter disregard for other lives. I am often embarrassed by myself, falling short of my own impossible expectations, but I carry on because my embarrassment isn’t helping anyone, isn’t helping us get to those greener shores. So I keep returning to love.

Love is the way. I know this. Simplistic as that may sound. But how do we implement love and love’s awesome power? How do we use it to create the world we wish to inhabit? One loving act at a time, and then another.

We create the world through small daily acts of Love in all its forms. We grow and heal, make art and sing, touch and cook and talk. We listen and cry and make mistakes and clean our messes. And laugh and dance and build things up and tear things down that need tearing down. We call to the wind and pay attention when it calls back to us.

So I sit in the here and now, pen and notebook in hand, with these lovely courageous souls, doing my part to create the world I wish to inhabit.

How the story will end (if it ends), or what the next chapter will be, no one knows. But no matter what happens, we can do this gathering together, this work of the heart and of art, and our time will not have been wasted.

Let’s gather together to create a beautiful, loving world for all of life. When we come together in loving, creative, playful ways, extraordinary things happen. We magnify our gifts and co-creative power.

Will you create with me? Will you create today?

If you would love to explore and express on the page, free and hone your unique voice, create and discover and write with others, check out Freedom to Write.

How to Make Time for Your Art and Find Your Creative Flow

How to Make Time for Your Art and Find Your Creative Flow

. . .even when you’re busy or it feels really hard

Last month I offered my patrons on Patreon the challenge to spend ten minutes a day making art. I took on the challenge too.

Just ten minutes, but every day. I gave them a blank calendar for the month to track the challenge and told them to keep those Xs going without breaking the chain.

Many artists have used this daily commitment to foster their creativity to good effect. Both Austin Kleon, author of the wonderful guide Steal Like an Artist, and Stephen Pressfield, author of the ground-breaking book The War of Art, champion this approach.

Benefits of the challenge

Taking on the challenge of creating every day for ten minutes can be very helpful for getting out of a rut and also learning to make time for your art.

Just ten minutes a day can restore your creative flow, your inspiration, and pretty soon you find yourself spending longer on the days when you can.

You’ll discover the time you do have, and how to break away from your distracting addictions to the internet or whatever it is you do instead of doing what you love.

Keeping the challenge to ten minutes helps reduce your resistance to creating (though you’ll still have to battle it) and helps ensure you don’t break the chain, no matter how busy your day is.

You will be surprised to see all that can get done in a very short amount of time. Stories get written. You learn to play the guitar. You fill up a sketchbook with drawings.

Best of all, you are making art every day.

Getting through the slog

But initially, the going can be tough. Here’s how I felt in the middle of the month-long challenge:

“So far the results have been awful. I have no inspiration. I’m dried up from a combination of overwork during the last few months and overstress at world events. I call this phase ‘grinding the gears.’

“Right now, I don’t like anything I write. Nonetheless, I keep writing, because by oiling the gears, I invite the muse to return. I show up reliably and she is likely to start showing up too.

“I know it works because I’ve been through this phase many times before, and it’s only through persisting in writing that I break through suddenly one day to a voice that excites me.

“Meanwhile, I experiment with different approaches to those ten minutes. Many days I spend much more than ten minutes.

“And, I also keep an eye out for what new sources of inspiration I need to feed my muse now to entice her out of hiding.”

Variations on a theme

Similarly, last month I suggested to one of my students, who has struggled to make time for her art, that she spend an hour a day in her studio for a month.

She had expressed that she keeps letting other things in her life take precedence and was feeling frustrated by this. So, I invited her to make a strong commitment to herself and her art for one month and see what happens.

I advised her to do this in the morning before everything else starts to get in the way. I told her she could use the time any way she wanted as long as she was in the studio. She could doodle. She could flip through art books for inspiration. She could stare out the window. She should let this be free playtime.

Here is what she discovered.

Sometimes she would spend an hour in the studio early in the day. Sometimes she wouldn’t get to it until the end of the day, when she would sit in bed with her sketchbook. Both felt good.

She worked both on a big painting, a much larger canvas than anything she is used to, and on small projects.

She also discovered that, after five days she needs a weekend off to replenish. This is her rhythm, and it’s right for her. It helps her return to the studio with new energy, refreshed.

So, she needed to let go of holding fast to the idea of having 30 uninterrupted days crossed off on her calendar.

She also discovered that sometimes after, say, 40 minutes, she felt done, but she would force herself to do a full hour, and those last 20 minutes were just painful. In other words, that wasn’t helping her be in a good relationship with her muse, her creativity. It turned out she needed to let go of holding so tightly to the full hour every day too.

So, she discovered a better intention was to gift herself an hour a day of creative time five days a week.

And, if she was faithful to the intention, not letting other busyness eat up all her time, then she didn’t need to be a tyrant with herself about it. She could allow a little flexibility, surprise, variation into the mix, and ultimately that benefitted her creativity.

But she also acknowledged it’s a delicate balance to maintain.

Finding your own rhythm

Each of us has to find what works for us. What truly works to support our best creative flow and our best life.

What makes this so tricky is that many of us are masters at lying to ourselves about this, fooling ourselves, letting our resistance get the better of us. And then suddenly, weeks go by and we haven’t made any art, and our lives stop feeling joyful and meaningful.

The challenge is finding and maintaining your own creative flow. When you give yourself permission to vary your routines or spend less time than you planned in the studio, you have to be careful that you aren’t sliding back into making no time for your art.

Or, when you tell yourself that you can’t create unless you have at least two hours uninterrupted, but then rarely give yourself those two hours, that is just sabotage.

So, you have to find a middle way, like the Buddha taught, between asceticism and indulgence, between structure and flexibility. You have to find your own way, through experimentation and self-honesty.

Half-way through this past month I skipped one day but played music instead of writing on that day, so I counted it. That weekend I skipped Friday completely, too fried from the onslaught of the world crisis to do anything. It seemed like a kindness to myself. But then I skipped that Sunday too and that didn’t feel good.

The next week I was back in the saddle, writing daily at least ten minutes, recommitted to the challenge, and finally inspiration was beginning to flow. By the weekend, I needed both days off, or at least, I thought I did.

The balance between structure and spontaneity

Most of us have both an inner taskmaster and an inner rebel. They go hand-in-hand.

Neither one in its extreme form is our friend, though both have gifts that can be channeled in service to our art.

One gives us the commitment and structure to show up devotedly for our art. The other grants variety and zest that helps keep things new and not turning into dull routine, feeling like a should or have to instead of a get to or want to.

Life is hard in many ways. Making art should bring joy and pleasure, as well as meaning, to our lives. So, we want to preserve the pleasure and not turn our art-making into drudgery.

Artists need structure and commitment to get past resistance to creating, but once past it, we also need self-kindness and an understanding of what truly fosters our best creative flow and our best lives. And we need a little wildness to keep things fresh and alive.

I find it’s less important to create every single day than it is to find a consistent pattern and stick to it devotedly.

If it works best for you to create five days a week for an hour, then make that your religious practice. If it’s one day a week all day or every day for at least ten minutes, stick to that. You have to find what works to maintain your best inspired flow, and what’s possible, given the real constraints of your life.

If you don’t yet know, experiment. I highly recommend trying the 10-minutes-a-day challenge for a month.

Taking on small challenges, conducting month-long or short-term experiments, inspires and motivates you to create and helps you gather information about your creative rhythms and what truly works for you.

Then, take what you’ve learned from the experiment and use it to foster an ongoing, joyful, inspired creative life. A life that is uniquely yours.

To your best life,

Maxima

P.S. Every month I give my patrons a creative idea, challenge and/or theme to play with, along with many other rewards. I’d love to have you join us. Click here to find out more:  https://www.patreon.com/maximakahn

Embracing Failure as a Necessary Step in Art

Embracing Failure as a Necessary Step in Art

Dancing near the edge

For over a month now I have been working on a poem called “Tango Near the Edge,” and in the end, it might not be any good.

I am writing it in response to a very complex prompt I found in a book of difficult writing prompts called Challenges for the Delusional. (Who can resist a title like that?)

To follow the prompt, I have to meet a series of difficult and bizarre creative hurdles all within one poem.

One of the hurdles is to use dance terminology in a poem that touches on death.

So, to make this poem I looked up terms used in tango. The terminology for tango is very rich and full of double entendres I hope to play on in my poem, which features a lover near the end of a troubling relationship.

I continue to be interested in this poem because it poses such a difficult creative challenge that it forces me to abandon most, if not all, of my usual strategies, to get out of ruts, and learn something new.

In fact, I have also chosen to impose a fixed form on the poem, in addition to the list of other challenges I have to meet. The form I have chosen is a poem of 24 lines made up of lines of six words each. I learned this form from Brenda Hillman, who in turn learned it from another poet.

This form forces a kind of economy and care on me that is helpful to corral my tendency to ramble. And something about the form has captured my imagination. I’ve used it for several poems already.

After all this time tinkering with the poem, rewriting lines, researching more tango terms and trying to weave them into the poem in a way that adds richness and doesn’t stop the reader because they don’t understand the meanings, I still don’t know if I have a poem that is good.

I have done so many revisions and still, probably the whole thing is too contrived to be successful as a piece of art.

In other words, I may have spent a good deal of my precious creative time on a dead end.

Be willing to go down dead ends

As artists, we have to be willing to go down dead ends for our art. Because in this way we grow, we stretch beyond our habits and safe zones. Art is not about playing safe and small.

Making art is a radical act that calls on all of who we are. Our art, our creativity, asks us to rise to the best we have to give, to who we are becoming, and to keep learning and honing our art.

To get there we often have to go back to being a beginner, over and over. We have to be willing to fall, to fail, to not look good or competent. Only in this way do we learn new skills, add new colors to our palette, discover voices within waiting to be sung.

“Preconceptions about what is and is not possible are as dangerous in the crafts as they are in other areas of human behavior. Meanwhile it is fun to play, and most discoveries are made by accident. Or an inspiration. But it is really an organic principle trying to find a soft spot to sprout in.

It takes a long time to learn that nothing is wasted. It takes a long time, and a lot of suffering usually, to understand that there is more to life and to poetry than our conscious purposes.”

– M.C. Richards, Centering

Be willing to be a beginner again

Years ago I attended a three-week-long residential workshop in Contact Improvisation, the dance form I have been engaging in for over thirty years.

In the workshop we had to break down core skills and try on exercises that felt awkward and hard. Even though at the time I was a fairly skilled Contact Improviser, I found myself suddenly unable to dance well at all. It was painful and embarrassing.

It wasn’t until I returned from the workshop and had some weeks to integrate the learning into my body that suddenly my dancing blossomed to a whole new level.

But I had to be willing to go through the awkwardness of new learning, to step out of my comfort zone, to go down what felt like dead ends and appear terrible as a dancer, in order to emerge from the chrysalis in a new form.

Embrace the awkwardness

Martin Keogh, a wonderful teacher of Contact Improvisation, once said in a workshop, “Embrace the awkward moments. Don’t try to rush through them in the dance.”

I encourage you not only to embrace the awkwardness and be a beginner again and again, but also to embrace challenge in your art, embrace your “failures,” your ruined canvasses, your awful poems, your embarrassing performances, your dead ends.

You never know where these might lead.

Know that you are doing this in service to your art. And celebrate yourself for being brave, for trying something new, and for making art at all.

If you’d like to read my poem “Tango Near the Edge” and see how I’ve met the challenges, join me on Patreon. I’ll share it this week with my patrons. (That’s where I share a lot of juicy insider stuff.)

How to Measure Success as an Artist

How to Measure Success as an Artist

How you measure success as an artist affects your creativity, health, happiness and more. I look at how I measure success, how the culture measures success, external and internal measures of success and how you can increase your own success as an artist.
Read more

Why We Need to Make Art Now (More Than Ever)

Why We Need to Make Art Now (More Than Ever)

When we make art, we aren’t destroying. We are uniting, rather than dividing.

When we create, we find and build connections between things, instead of separation. We knit pieces of the world together.

We hold up the beauty, magic and magnificence of the world, so that we all can awaken from the trance of not enough, of materialism and conflict, and remember what really matters.

When we make art, we forget consumption, lust for power, envy, pettiness, the feeling of not enough.

When we create, we play. We become lighter of heart. We remember joy, wonder, love. We don’t take ourselves so seriously. Or we may even lose our small selves completely in the act of creation.

We touch the numinous. We awaken our hearts, souls, spirits, our best selves. And we awaken this in others, just by being creative, and also by sharing our art.

We work out our troubles on the page, stage, canvas, clay, musical instrument. We release what is pent inside that is causing storms and dis-ease, waiting to explode if not given some healthy outlet.

Value-holders and Vision-keepers

The arts uphold values of love, connection, wisdom, wonder, beauty, truth. They validate, strengthen and remind us of our deep need for these things, our preference for these things which we too easily forget in the busyness and disconnection of our daily lives.

Your photographs and weavings, your collages and beadwork, your songs and dances help make a world of beauty, sweetness, deep heart, a world of revelation and vulnerability.

You give voice to something needing to be said, however hard it may be. And you do it artfully, so that something deep within can awaken in us.

Artists are the vision-keepers, the wayshowers, the conscience of a culture. That is why they have been oppressed, imprisoned, shut down and killed by oppressors throughout time.

Because we have tremendous power as artists.

The power to create. The power to love. To tell the truth, to care. And to be silly too, playful, irreverent.

To speak in sacred language. For, what else is symbol, color, music and metaphor but a kind of holy speech?

So make art. Make time for your art. Now. Make a little time if that is all you have. It will heal you. It will heal our world. One creative act at a time.

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