Layla-Saad

Blogaversary Giveaway!

Photo | Alex Blăjan

It’s my 11th blogaversary! Naturally, I’m celebrating with a GIVEAWAY. The winner will receive a free 30-minute coaching session to be used anytime between now and the end of January. To play, just leave a comment on my very first blog post (below). I’ll choose one name at random tomorrow, Monday, at 5:00pm EST.

A teeny-tiny bit of backstory: On January 7, 2007, I started a blog named Bullseye, Baby! (Yes, the exclamation point was part of the name.) I didn’t really know what a blog was, only that I needed a place to practice — so that was the blog’s little tagline.

There were a few times when I hit pause, thought I was done, or changed the platform and name (anyone remember More Joy, Less Oy?). For six months or so in 2010, I went dark completely. The space itself had many makeovers over the years, changing right alongside me. But it always remained my place to practice showing up.

So, here’s the first blog post I ever wrote. (You can see that I haven’t changed all that much.) Whether you’ve been there since day one or are new to my words, thank you. It’s the connection, the space between us, that energizes my writing more than anything else. I’m so grateful for the continuous unfolding.

PRACTICE WHAT?

Hitting the bullseye, baby.

It was a few months back, 2:30am, nursing my second child in the glider in her room. I was thinking about images for my new Strong Coaching business card. And I was thinking about something I read once that made quite an impression on me – that in Judaism, the word chet, usually translated as “sin,” actually means something closer to “missing the mark.” I learned this in the context of Yom Kippur, when the word “sin” comes up an awful lot in the prayerbook’s English translations. Sin – such an offputting word. So final. So full of judgment.

But missing the mark – now this was a concept I could get my head around. Forgiving, roomy. With implications of more chances. You know, nobody’s perfect. Better yet, imperfection is where all the juice is. We do our best, we practice, we try stuff, we throw spaghetti at the wall and we skin knees and we get hurt and we learn in ways that are sometimes grueling and other times graceful – about relationships, about love, about work, about pretty much everything. In all that trying, in the practice, comes the learning and the growing that we’re here to do. And in the process, maybe the bullseye itself isn’t “getting” the thing we’ve been aiming at but rather hitting on some increased ability to be patient and kind to ourselves.

I put the baby back in her crib and grabbed my journal to sketch a bullseye, knowing the image would be lost on me if I left it till morning. What is coaching, after all, but a chance to try stuff and muck around and develop greater self-knowledge and forgiveness and to make core discoveries about what it is that makes us feel most ourselves. When I feel most myself, there’s more bounce in my step, freedom in my laughter, flexibility in my actions and love in my heart. More moments of compassion and spontaneity and synchronicity, more interest in strangers, more tolerance. There are no right answers. And God is not my judge but a partner in crime who thinks I am a pretty cool chick. What is coaching but the chance to take come chances, throw some darts, and hang out knowing that you’re better off practicing than letting inertia get the better of you.

Bullseye, baby. Two babies, actually. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at them in wonder. The first blew my world open in ways that demanded spiritual integration of a whole new order. The second carries a lucidity that has placed me in the company of a whole posse of angels. Together, these blue-eyed Jewish beauties nudge me towards myself. We stand in the company of so many women, sisters, daughters, mothers. And there’s nothing quite like motherhood when it comes to practice, patience, forgiveness, flexibility, creativity…

So here is my invitation: Pick a bullseye for yourself. Sure, it might be a moving target. But you know what’s been waiting, or calling for your attention. And then make some changes. Take some action. Take a chance. Call it practice.

Layla-Saad

These Birthdays Go to Eleven


On the 14th of this month, I’ll turn 44. The fact that my new age is a multiple of 11 is making me irrationally happy. Rather than celebrating a big round number like 40 or 50, turning 44 feels special.

Why?

That’s easy. I was born at 11:11am.  Eleven is my number.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per se, but there is something in the air about this year. It feels big and a little bit tingly in my chest, like when good news is coming and you don’t know what it is yet.

It feels slow and steady, like the mountain goat that symbolizes the Capricorn sun I was born under on a cold Buffalo morning.

It feels like trust and keep going and a deepening of the path I’m on, after so long of trying to get footing in my life, belonging in my body, and clear purpose in my work.

It feels like conviction and commitment and a claim to being all the way here. And it feels like writing-wise, a year to reap some of the benefits of so many years of practice.

This morning, I found myself thinking back on turning 22 and 33, and realized both were pivotal in my writing + life.  Since I geek out on numbers and patterns, I couldn’t help but get excited about this and its implications for turning 44.

22

I was working full-time at what by all rights was a plum job to have landed not long after graduating from college. But by the spring of 1996, the daily commute from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to Lincoln Center, which my office overlooked from the other side of Broadway, had lost any shred of romance and become a schlep. There were a few failed attempts at dating. I was lonely and inhibited, and I longed to go disappear into the world without a clue as to what they meant or how it could look.

I met Deborah Digges, a poet and memoirist who lived in Amherst and taught at Tufts, on Memorial Day weekend of 1996. My parents had invited her over for brunch, and it was there at the round oak dining room table that I first heard about Bread Loaf, a writers’ conference in Ripton, Vermont. She would be teaching there that summer, she told us, and encouraged me to apply for her workshop.

I can still hear her sing-song, “Bread Loaf for you!” I loved her already, and set my sights on Middlebury in August.

By some small miracle, I was accepted. And rather than doing the logical thing — using a week of vacation time to attend — I quit my job. I paced around Central Park for two hours t hat morning, screwing up my courage into something like a voice, and told my boss I would be leaving in July. (Mind you, this was early June, and I learned an invaluable lesson that summer: Never give that much notice. It’s torture for everyone. Read more about that experience if you wish.)

That decision changed my life and became the foundation for my writing in ways that would take many years to become evident. I learned more from my time with Deborah, at Bread Loaf and in the six months or so after when we remained close, than in the entirety of my MFA program.

33

On January 7, 2007 — one week before my 33rd birthday — I started a blog. I named it Bullseye, Baby: A Place to Practice.

Practice what? That, my friends, was the title of my very first blog post! (Read it now, if you want. I’ll wait here.)

That month, I embarked on a 15-week writing class in Vermont. It was called Women Writing (for) a Change, under the guidance of a poet named Sarah Bartlett. One evening per week, we gathered, wrote, and shared. Our voices filled a candlelit room. We ate chocolate. We cried and laughed. We came from all different backgrounds and brought our true stories to the page.

I began to take my writing practice seriously, giving myself the blog as a place to show up and drop into whatever was happening in that moment, or to synthesize a swirl of thoughts and activities that, as a working mom with two small children, threatened to subsume me.

I had a single reader for the first 11 months, and then, seemingly out of the blue, a flurry of comments when our dog Juke was dying wrapped me up in a newfound sense of writing community. I was finding my people. I was finding my voice, on the page and in the world.

44

Two days before the new year, I submitted an essay to the New York Times “Modern Love” column. The odds are not exactly forever in my favor, but I am not indulging the overdone, doomsday, “there’s no way they’ll publish it” trope. We all know the statistics, but whatever — you gotta play to win, and if it wasn’t clear by now, I’m in this for the long haul, and not just to get published.

What began as a place to practice became a place of community, then refuge, then livelihood; writing and sharing is the foundation for pretty much my whole life now. And this — this is what I dreamed of and didn’t for the life of me know how to make happen.

I don’t know what this new year, this new multiple of 11, will bring in terms of writing + life, but I have a good feeling about it. Could be the fact that supermoons will bookend the month of January (fun facts: did you know the supermoon looks 1/3 brighter and 14% closer than other full moons)?

Or that I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays — mine and everyone else’s (but especially mine, lol).

Maybe there really is something in the air, as evidenced by nothing but that sparkly sensation I get at the top of my head, in my chest, and in a slightly mischievous twinkle in my eye when something good is coming and my intuition is ON. You better believe me when I say: I’m here for it.

And if the something good is more of what is already here– writing, practicing, showing up, not waiting to get it right, not worrying about being good, and connecting with people near and far in beautiful, true, and unexpected ways–I’ll take it.

Yes, it’s all a bit woo-woo. but I’m choosing to believe that the multiples of 11 carry an extra dose of mojo, depth, and clarity. Stay tuned — because you already know I’ll be writing all about it.

P.S. On a whim, hours after writing this, I checked the word count. You won’t believe it: It’s 1,111 words.

Layla-Saad

I, Spy: A Four-Week Writing Group


Writing requires that we take in our surroundings and examine our internal landscape in an attempt to understand, if not solve, the many puzzles and mysteries of being human in a particular moment in time.

This new group was inspired by the teachings of my late teacher, poet and memoirist Deborah Digges. She believed that as someone who wrote, it was her duty to listen hard — in the words of Anne Sexton — and to look closely. She taught me to be a spy in this world: To take notes without being noticed, to observe without disrupting, and to use details from everyday life to infuse our writing with vivid imagery and felt experience.

For a full month, we will practice this together, with gentle guidance and a shared space for our daily discoveries. We will see what it’s like to be invisible — not because the world is telling us we are insignificant, but because this cloak enables us to observe and perceive more keenly. Building on what catches our eye, we will play with writing short scenes. Finally, we will have the opportunity to reflect on our learning and plot out our next steps.

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box — according to your financial ability.
Contact me with any questions


Payment Option




Want a little more detail before you commit? Here’s a breakdown of how the group will flow:

WEEK 1: The Notebook

Each day this week, from Monday to Friday, we will forage moments. You assignment during this time will be to to keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times, and to jot down whatever catches your eye.

  • The way a child inches into the crosswalk, two steps ahead of her grown-up
  • The couple at your morning cafe who always sit at the same corner table, not talking
  • The cashier at CVS with a thick accent, who smiles at every customer
  • An elderly man who walks at a glacial pace past your house each day at the same time
  • A hawk circling its prey above the frozen fields
  • A fleeting interaction, tender or terse

No matter what details you notice, you’ll put them into your daily files for later without comment or judgment or extrapolation of any kind. Each day, we will share lists of our collected moments in our secret spies Facebook group. We will practice witnessing, and witness each other witnessing — with nothing more to do.

WEEK 2: The Magnifying Glass

This week is an invitation to comb through last week’s spy notes and observations. Each day, you will bring a magnifying glass to one of the moments that caught your eye during Week 1. Looking even more closely now and using your mind’s eye, what else becomes evident or visible? Working with imaginative details or drawing on lived experience, we’ll share ~ 300 words per day that illuminate more of the moment — not to make a scene as much as to look more closely at what we may have missed at first pass.

WEEK 3: Zooming Out

At the opening of this week, you will choose ONE of your writings from Week 2 and add to it each day, you’ll add to it. By carving out just 10 minutes a day to stay close to your selected moment, you’ll start developing some expertise and encountering more questions about its environs and chapters. We’ll begin to zoom out, but not too much. Jena will offer guiding questions throughout the week.

WEEK 4: The Meta-View

During Week 4, we’ll get meta by observing the observer. Each day we’ll get curious about a particular question that bears significance on how we move through time and space — and what this has to do with our writing + life. We’ll share our discoveries, thoughts, questions and intentions, and give and receive reflective commentary for how to work with these to our creative benefit going forward.

WHO IS THIS GROUP FOR?

This group is open to writers of all genres, as well as those who don’t consider themselves writers but wish to engage in a creative process. An open mind, a spirit of inquiry, and a willingness to be honest and kind with yourself and others are the only requirements. Anyone who loves writing and life and wants to invest in exploring more ways to encounter the world and the page will find themselves right at home in this space.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES

  • Notebook
  • Writing utensil
  • Curiosity
  • Invisible cloak and magnifying glass (optional!)

DATES

Monday, February 4 to Friday, March 2, 2018

COST (SLIDING SCALE)

$99/$149/$199*

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box
Contact me with any questions


Payment Option




* Some scholarship funds are available upon request. Please contact Jena to discuss; nobody will be turned away.

Layla-Saad

Writers, Authors, and People Who Write

Photo: Aliis Sinisalu

It’s not at all uncommon for my father to give me a volume of poetry from time to time, usually when I’m stopping by my parents’ house to say hello. A few weeks ago, he handed me a slim but dense collection called On Balance, by contemporary Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey. I keep coming back to a single poem called My Life According to You. I think it’s one of the best titles of all time.

We spend so much time trying to figure out our lives according to others, negotiating rules we didn’t create, and bumping up against systems that shape our very sense of self-worth, usually according to external, quantifiable factors.

“What do you do?” we ask each other, right after “What’s your name?” and perhaps “Where are you from?” If your name is unfamiliar or your skin color difficult to categorize, you might even get an extra special, “Where are you really from?”

If “writer” is your lucky answer to the question of doing, you might be familiar with subsequent questions, such as: “What do you write?” “Have you written any books?” “Do you make a living doing that?” Depending on how you respond, you might be met with a blank look, something like pity, or just a polite smile.

I hear from so many people who write but hesitate to call themselves a “writer.” Why is this?

Maybe we’ve grown attached to the idea that a real writer rises before dawn and writes until noon, then enjoys a simple lunch and takes a walk around the acres surrounding their 1800s farmhouse. Maybe we think real writers must down half a bottle of whiskey every night, collapsing in a post-cathartic heap in the wee hours.

What if ALL writers are –gasp! – regular people?

People who have to read the laundry instructions and remember to defrost the chicken for dinner. People whose day jobs are demanding and draining, fulfilling and anchoring, or some combination thereof. People who are navigating family dynamics with siblings and spouses and aging parents. People who are raising children or looking around an empty nest wondering how it went by so fast and now what. People with bills to pay and health issues to contend with and a stack of unread books on the night table.

Many of us who are writers simply love writing and cannot imagine life for long without the blank page, without the solitude of the writing process, without the journal or the iPhone notes or the pen and back of the envelope snatched from the glove compartment to grab a fly-by poem at a rest stop on the interstate.

There are as many ways to be a writer as there are ways to be a person.

When it comes to life according to someone else, be that “someone” an authority figure from your past, society at large, or a vicious inner critic, what rules have you come to believe, consciously or not, about being a writer and who gets to claim such an identity? Ironically, the very word “authority” contains “author.” What if you could be the authority about your own writing?

It’s not a new conversation, but it’s evergreen in its relevance to the creative process. Why? Because a rigid definition of what constitutes “real” writing keeps you from exploring what could be possible in your writing if you allowed yourself room to be totally imperfect.

Permission to suck is as close to a magic bullet as I’ve ever encountered — and I don’t really believe in magic bullets. What I do believe in is showing up, day after day or at least some of the time, to play with words. Sometimes this feels awful and cringe-y. It’s tempting to select all and delete without saving, or rip the page out of the notebook and toss it in the recycling bin.

I get it.

When I think of friends and colleagues who are authors – commercially successful, published authors, with advances and publishing contracts and agents and the whole megillah – I know they weren’t born that way. Well, they may have been born to write. But the “success” part of the equation is the part of the iceberg visible to the naked eye. Beneath the books is a mountain of uncelebrated hours, shitty drafts, abandoned ideas, unfinished projects, questions, conversations, doubts, and uncertainties.

There may also be something else at work: Commitment. And not allowing society’s prescription for success to define what gets written, what gets tossed, and what ultimately gets shared with the wider world. Believing in your voice isn’t a one-time thing. It happens gradually, as a result of working alongside whatever tells you to give it up already.

Often, when you hear about that best-selling debut novel, what you don’t hear about are the 15 unpublished novels that came before it. If publishing is a priority for you, you will plug away at it and it will happen. I really believe this. And if it’s not, or if it’s simply lower on the list of things that matter most, that doesn’t make you less of a writer.

Something begins to shift the moment we loosen the reigns and declare, “I am a person who writes. I am a writer.” And this is the crux of the matter: A writer is a person who writes, and not all writers must be authors.

Writing can infuse other fields of work. It can be oriented towards personal growth, political commentary, or a prolific imagination that imagines entirely different realities and brings them to life. It can be a practice that reminds you who you are. It can be a form of communication with yourself and with the people you love most or relate to least. It can be something you work at or something you do for pure pleasure.

Your writing life can change over time. It can ebb and flow. Sometimes, it might feel Sisyphean in its effort. Other times, the words might pour out of you, like rain from the sky through the vessel of you.

What it doesn’t have to be is torture.

And if writing is torture for you, consider what rules you’re agreeing to. Whose are they? Where did they come from? What would be possible without them?

When it comes to creativity, a little permission can go a long way. Once you relax the expectations of what being a writer must look like, what the results should be, and what counts as “real,” you might start to find that it’s actually not so torturous after all. It might even be… fun.

Imagine that.

* * *

Want to end the year revisiting what it means to be a writer? Celebrate the return of the light during my 2-week online writing group, What If You Knew, December 11-22. As a holiday gift and gesture of my appreciation for this writing life, I’m offering a 25% discount! Register here.

Layla-Saad

Notes from the Body Shop

Image: Steinar Engeland

Today’s super sexy dispatch from the front lines of real life is brought to you from the body shop, where I’m having my trusty Toyota inspected. The sticker had a giant 7 on it, which means I’m approximately four months overdue for this grown-up task. The TV monitor tells me it’s 38 degrees outside. If I’d thought to bring my laptop, writing this would be a bit easier than pecking my phone keyboard, but when I left the house I hadn’t planned on coming here. You grab time when you can. Which should in no way be misconstrued for grabbing pussy when you can. Stop that shit.

Speaking of stopping, I got such a sweet note this morning. The person wrote that she feels orphaned without a writing community, and spends more time wondering if her writing is any good than she does actually writing. I nodded my head as I read, as she had named something so true.

Going it alone is sometimes the only way; getting super quiet, internal, and self-contained can do wonders for creative gestation. If anything, I vacillate this time of year between craving a cave of silent solitude and a communal table with a big pot of soup and a shared hunk of bread. The balance can be hard to find. But when it becomes true that we’re thinking a lot about writing but not actually writing, or we’re writing but being hyper-critical of ourselves, or we feel like the lone tree falling in the forest, or we can’t seem to maintain any momentum– these all point to the moment when to reach out for a hand in the dark is not a bad idea.

I had a coaching call this morning with a woman who wants to jump start her blog and revive her newsletter. She had some questions, which I sneakily turned into more questions (“very sophisticated,” as I told her, and we laughed). The best part of our conversation was hearing her excitement grow as she articulated how she wants her reader to feel, what qualities she imagines her writing conveying, and what kind of structures she knows work best for her. Just before we wrapped up, I asked her: “So what’s your plan?”

I felt my heart beating in my chest. I felt the chair beneath my seat and heard her voice across the miles as if she were sitting across from me over mugs of strong coffee. She took a breath and began: “My plan…” And I thought to myself, what a small miracle this is, that she has a plan! The plan will certainly change over time, as all plans must. But knowing your next step, now that is nothing to sneeze at.

There’s a time for having no idea what the next step is and expanding your ability to stay in that discomfort. And then there’s a time for reaching out, for saying hey, I could use help with this. Or huh, what if I tried x, y, or z.

Now, as a complete non sequitur, why is it that everything I write winds up sounding like Ecclesiastes? There’s a time for this and a time for that!

Maybe it’s because we’re always facing these choices: What is it time for in our writing and in our lives? Whether on a grand scale or a micro one, this seems to me to be one of the most continuous of life’s many questions. Getting the car inspected is a no-brainer, though even that has taken me months longer than perhaps it should have. I used to have a teacher who’d say everything happens right on time. We could parse that one out for the rest of our lives, or not. I’d rather just start and keep going.

Well, my car has passed its inspection for another year, so it’s time to wrap this up, pay my $35, and head home. There might have to be a wee nap in my near future. What’s in yours?