Tag Archives: listening

Cellular Memory

A few years ago, my daughters and I attended an all day writing workshop, a Spring Salon at Hedgebrook, the community of women writers located on a beautiful farm on magical Whidbey Island in Washington State.  As Susan and Lila and I rode the ferry from Seattle,  we felt the power of our friendship and of our kinship.  The mist of the salt-air blew across our faces and into our hair as we stood on the ferry’s deck, arms locked together in unity, silently watching the Island come closer as we crossed Puget Sound.  Susan was seven months pregnant, and we were keenly aware that the next generation of “Schaffler women” was with us.   Lillian’s story had begun months ago, and she was writing it now, even while in the womb.  Hedgebrook’s mission is to “support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.”  We were eager to experience this day as three generations of women, to tell our stories amongst other, strong women writers.  The Hedgebrook farm setting is serene and tranquil; you can feel the energy, and you can sense the spirits of the thousands of women who have written there, who have communed there and who have been brave enough to tell their stories.  You can perceive the potency of these women’s words as they continue to affect millions of readers.  The women of Hedgebrook author change.

hedgebrook

My daughters and I decided to sign up for the same workshops, one with Storme Webber and the other with Kathleen Alcalá.  We loved taking the workshops together; we were eager to share the results of our work, to hear one another read out-loud to the group, to listen for similarities and differences in the results of our assignments, to marvel in the spontaneity of our writing.  We intuitively knew our unified energy could be felt by the other women in the group.  I have participated in many writing workshops, and never did I experience the level of intensity as I did on this day.  There seemed to be so much more at stake for us; we knew each other intimately.  Our life stories are not all bright and cheery; I have made my share of mistakes as a mother; sister relationships can be brutal.  Though my daughters and I trust each other, we are careful not to inflict pain.  We bare our souls when we write, and sometimes our truths can be painful.  We dive deep into our memory banks, conscious and unconscious, and we try to free the memories that live deep within our cells because this is how we write the truth.  My daughters and I felt safe, un-judged, supported and loved at Hedgebrook.  We took Lillian’s presence seriously and marveled when she danced in Susan’s belly.  We knew she was listening.  We knew she was excited to share her story with us.

Before we left the farm that day, my daughters and I purchased three little silver bracelets stamped with the words “Women Authoring Change,” one for each of us.  I have not taken mine off since I put it on my wrist — except for when Lillian wants to wear it.  This is the only bracelet of mine Lillian wants to wear.  I have other beautiful bracelets, but the only one Lillian ever wants is the Hedgebrook bracelet.  She puts in on her wrist and on her feet.  She plays with it in the bathtub and holds it tightly in her fist while she goes to sleep.  Somewhere in her cellular memory, I am certain Lillian remembers her day at Hedgebrook when she was cocooned in her mother’s womb.  When Susan was in labor, she absolutely refused to take her bracelet off, despite it getting tangled in tubes and tape. Our day together at Hedgebrook helped to drive a profound sense of authorship within the world Susan creates for Lillian, a world of empowerment, focus, and possibility in love, adventure, and crazy fun.

Lillian is now two; she will be three in June.  She is a serious little girl with a great sense of humor and style that is simply astonishing.  She is an old-soul, a kindred spirit; she looks at you with knowing.  Lillian is writing her story.  She is the next generation of women authoring change.  Between my daughters Susan and Lila, and my son Kana, there will be other granddaughters and grandsons who will write their stories and change the world, whose voices will be loud and strong.  I look forward to witnessing these generational forces, and I am certain their stories will be influenced by conscious, unconscious, and even by ancestral, cellular memories.

Learning to Listen

Several years ago, I realized I needed to hone my listening skills.  I was enrolled in a high-residency full-time MFA program, working full time at a demanding job, and commuting about 100 miles to work and back.  My teachers warned me that working full-time while pursuing my MFA would be difficult if not impossible.  “You are juggling too many balls,” I was told.  “They are all going to come crashing down.”  To me, it didn’t seem impossible at all.  I had accomplished my BA while raising three children by myself and working at least half-time.   I was good at juggling; even though an occasional ball would drop now and then, I always got the rhythm going again.  Quitting my job wasn’t an option, and I was determined to complete the thing I had journeyed from Washington State to New York to do: finish my BA in writing and complete my MFA.

My time was limited. The reading lists were long, and my writing assignments filled every spare moment I had.  In order to complete the assigned readings, I had to be creative and utilize every minute.  I discovered audio books, and I started listening to the audio version of any books on my reading lists I could find.  I was sure to have the printed books also, but if I could find the audio version, I listened.  During my commute,  I listened. Any time I was in the car, I listened.  I listened early in the mornings and late into the evenings when everyone was asleep.

moby

The first book I listened to was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. What a challenge it was to have twenty-four hours of intense, dense listening ahead of me!  I would be driving along and suddenly realize I had missed an entire section – pages of reading.  My unfocused mind wandered, and I daydreamed.  I couldn’t navigate my way back to the place where I had stopped listening, especially while driving.  I usually didn’t even know at what point I had drifted off.  I couldn’t push the ‘rewind’ button because there wasn’t one.   Starting from the beginning was not an option because I had no time.  I had to learn to listen.  I had to keep my mind from straying.  It took practice and discipline, but I have learned to love this form of ‘reading.’  Now, almost every book I buy is in audio form.  Sometimes I also buy the printed or Kindle version, but I continue to listen.  My favorite way to experience a book is to listen.  My mind still wanders, and I find myself daydreaming, but I have become more attentive and am quicker to notice my mental wanderings.  I don’t miss as much.  I am able to reel my attention back and focus.

Listening to books has helped me to be more attentive to the world around me.  I pay closer attention to the things I hear.  I am an eavesdropper.  When I walk into a store or go to a flea market or take a walk down a busy street, I listen for interesting sound-bytes.  I love listening to the things people say.  I have a Twitter feed where I ‘tweet’ the things I overhear @laurieschaffler.  This motivates me to listen.  Plus, I want to record and remember what I hear.  Maybe someday I can turn my listenings into a beautiful poem!