Fire & Ice : A Writer’s Muse

Mother Nature rules the roost on this island. She decides when Geyser will explode into the air, when the next volcanic eruption will transform the land, when the tectonic plates will shift and when the northern lights will dance. I felt small and insignificant, figuratively and literally next to the dramatic and fierce landscape, at the mercy of Her. A risk taker, enjoying a land that emitted a quiet, impending doom.

I couldn’t help but notice geometric patterns tagging the landscape; an ikat rug amidst the frozen lake, leopard print covering the mountain side. The bright colored roofs on a gloomy day made me giddy with childlike wonder and enamor.  The vibrant street-art filled the otherwise boring walls with a funky personality of opinion and depth. The volcano formed scenery reminded me of agro crag from Nickelodeon’s GUTS. Tales of mischievous elves and the hidden people ran through my mind as I gazed into the mountainside, feeling confident of their presence.

The dramatic landscape and the feeling of unpredictability in this country fosters raw, vulnerable art. A transformative aroma in the air, a feeling begging for fresh thought and nurtured ideas.

Iceland: the perfect setting for a writing retreat.

As I arrived home and unpacked my suitcase labeled ‘heavy’ by airport staff, the only thing I found left untouched was my little green book, Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed. She was scheduled to attend our writing retreat in Iceland, and of course, sign my book, but much to everyone’s disappointment, had the stomach flu and couldn’t make it.

The writers were reassured with an Icelandic saying, þetta reddast, meaning it will work out.

This little book represented a theme for my week at the retreat. What I thought would be my experience, was something quite different. Something more, defined not just by one person but an entire country, like-minded friends, authors and mouth-watering brown bread.

Self-discovery as a new writer was my heart-tugging purpose for attending the retreat. Looking back, a quite lofty goal. I have been seeking direction and clarity in my new full-time pursuit as a freelance copywriter/blogger/newsletterist/non-fiction short story teller, and this seemed like the perfect setting for exploration.

Wednesday to Sunday in the small, big city of Reykjavik were dedicated to writing, workshops, receptions and tours. I was intimidated by all of my accomplished co-writers, legitimized by their published work and extensive background. Were they nervous like me? Were they undercover introverts who love their alone time but also feel rejuvenated by fresh conversation and connection?

I knew I would have to explain myself as a writer and this made me a little anxious. As if someone was going to discover that I wasn’t actually a writer? In reality, being surrounded by so many honest and vulnerable people was a huge relief. These were my people

When I explained my current situation of career ambiguity (like some kind of a prognosis) to a man of 60-years, he just nodded his head in understanding and agreement.  He explained that he has done all types of writing in his career, and that was the best part about it. You don’t need to have just one formula.

One of the novelists, Adelle Waldman, recalled her humble beginnings saying, “I used to be just a girl with a word document.”

Maybe I’m in that phase.

I captured so many other important, tasty bits of knowledge throughout the retreat. Here is a small sampling:

  • If something disturbs you, write about it
  • Be humble in front of the world
  • You have an idea, now find the story
  • What is something you are too afraid to ever write about. Write about that.
  • Don’t mistake the good feeling of finishing something, with actually being finished
  • Emotional responses are not your friend
  • Writing is the only art form where you can inhabit the body and mind of another human, real or fake
  • Open yourself to condemnation and shame, and trust in everyone’s humanity
  • Know the difference between a confession (deep/dark) versus a revelation (how something changed you)
  • Ask yourself the question, “Who am I really?”
  • Be brave in your writing

I am brave. I am brave. I had to be brave traveling alone at 22 weeks pregnant. Brave to be vulnerable and true in sharing who I am. Brave to take the leap into a career of the heart.

Now, to take my real-life bravery and translate it into my writing, and my pursuit of new writing opportunities. My challenge and purpose is clear.

We were treated to a small Skype session with Cheryl Strayed at the end of the retreat. It all worked out. And I left with so much more than a signed book.

A soul brimming with creativity, motivation and bravery.

Photo Credit: Lucy Rogers


The Girl with the Pillow

The most cushion and comfort I would feel for the next few months was cuddled tightly beneath my crossed arms.  I stood at LAX making small talk with my parents staring up at the massive sign of rotating arrivals and departures. Behind the forced yet hopeful smiles were tears.  Mom and Dad, so proud and excited yet scared. After many I love you’s and all the well wishes in the world, I reached up for one last prolonged hug while my mom exclaimed through a teary smile, “Damn you and your adventurous spirit!”

While I slouched in line waiting for security, I looked ahead to a life that I couldn’t imagine and back on a life I knew so well, full of images, stability and comfort. What would my new existence look like? What would I look like there? Who would I meet? Where would I live? Why did I leave? Why did I leave?  It was in my heart.

I had to trust my instincts. In vulnerability and discomfort the only thing left to trust was my heart and gut.

I haven’t thought about that moment, since that moment, and now I am unknowingly using that strength to move forward through tough times. Be the girl with the pillow I tell myself. When having a bad day or week or month, I find refuge in knowing that I have been to that place before. Loneliness. I have learned to accept that feeling, without analyzing or overthinking why, and just simply feeling. When I arrived at a state of loneliness recently (which I had been afraid of feeling since I experienced it so intensely in Australia), I sat there, took it in and said OK, I can do this, bring it on. In that moment I felt free and knew that my inner strength would continue to build from that moment on. It would get easier, it always does.

I live life with my heart forward. I make decisions true to my instincts and although it can be dangerous at times, it is a part of my character that I have learned to embrace.

“Because in the end what matters most is how well did you live, how well did you love, how well did you learn to LET GO”. That quote has grown a part of my soul since I read it on a wall in Bali. Letting go is so hard, impossible at times, but it is in letting go that your present and future path is lit up, guiding you into a direction filled with clarity and contentment.

Fasten your seat belt. Be the girl with the pillow. Step out, be brave, be adventurous, let go.