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


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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

When the Going Gets Tough

DNA Tree of Life by MimiPrints

I am a crier. Or is it cry-er? If I am a rager, it’s usually inward. I am a driver and  a walker. When the going gets tough, I used to be a smoker and a runner. These days, I’m making friends again with my yoga mat and the breath.

I keep going. I remind myself that nothing is permanent. I crave being cared for and taken care of. I can get awfully martyrish but usually catch myself before I get lost in there completely.

I did an online personality test the other day, one of those Facebook quiz things that you know is an utter waste of time but you click on anyway. My results ranked these four things highest: Anxiety, sensitivity, friendliness, and complexity. Really? There were other things, too. But those were my top results. I felt a rush of shame, a kind of “shouldn’t” especially around the anxiety. I want to be better than that, isn’t that ridiculous? I want to be cool as a cucumber. I want to be calm as a buddha. I want to be easy like Sunday morning.

Instead, I seem to carry the “worrier” gene that has surely been passed down the mother line for generations. We recently learned that there is an actual gene for “worriers” and “warriors.”

The thing with genes is that we can turn then on and off. We could talk nature/nurture all day, and it’s endlessly fascinating stuff to me. Genes determine so much about our propensities and dispositions, but so does context and environment in every sense. From the water we drink and the soil our food grows in to the rain that falls and the chemicals carried on wind even over the organic crops we may choose, there is no unchlorinated end of the swimming pool.

But back to genes, and things getting tough, and worry. Who decides what “tough” means? Do I wring my hands? I desperately want to say no. I don’t sit around fretting. It’s no wonder I chose to marry someone who is so unstoppable in the face of adversity.

But my people are also tough. We’ve survived and survived and survived. And I am giving myself to this lifetime of practice. Practice staying with myself and the people closest to me when things get stressful, rather than running, rather than folding up, rather than imploding, rather than wishing and fantasizing for something other or better. Even when the going gets tough, I want to remember that I am here. I get to be here for it. Sometimes I can lose sight of that, and those are dark moments.

Tomorrow the light returns. The sun begins to come back, one minute longer at a time. The sun enters Capricorn, season of my birth. I am surrendering to these next days, making room for quiet and letting things be as they are. Plenty of things have been really tough these past few years, but the hardest parts are inseparable, too, from everything that feeds and fuels me now, both literally and figuratively.

At the end of the day, that’s the double helix I’ll hang my hat on.

Layla-Saad

I’ll Bring the Pencils

I am the youngest of three sisters.

There is still a joke between us, about how I would knock on the door of one of their bedrooms when their friends were over. Let’s say I was 11 and they were 15 and 17, give or take a year. They’d be in there, hanging out, listening to music, and just generally being older than me and cooler than me no matter what they were actually doing.

I’d want desperately to be in the room with them, not taking up any room but just breathing the same (probably smoky) air. But I knew this wasn’t going to happen, so instead I’d stand there at the threshold of that untouchable teenage space. And I’d make up some reason for having knocked. The excuse I made I remember most clearly for my embarrassing longing was: Can I borrow a pencil?

That girl still lives inside of me, the one who is shy around the older girls, the real grown ones with boobs and boyfriends and cigarettes and jokes I don’t get. That girl still lives inside me, who doesn’t belong, who isn’t invited, who goes back to her own room feeling a little bit mad and a little bit sad and a lot lonely. She puts on one of her dozen David Bowie albums and flops across the mattress on the floor, wondering when she will be cool.

it’s no wonder a big part of my work in this world is to say: Come on in. Have a seat. Let’s hang out together. Let’s write and draw and listen to music and laugh and tell stories.

I’ll bring the pencils.

Layla-Saad

6X6: Just Write… Coming in January 2018!


A couple of months ago, I announced a new group called Shitty First Drafts.

Soon thereafter, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough vision yet for how it would be different from my other groups, so I decided to give it some time to gestate. I pulled it from my website, not knowing whether I’d resurrect, transform, or scrap it.

Soon, it became clear what the problem was. The problem was what the problem so often is: I was trying too hard.

Something similar happened two years ago, when an idea that began as exciting grew increasingly unwieldy the more I worked on it. I reached out to a trusted writer and teacher for some perspective. Our conversation circled around one of my favorite questions: Where is there ease? 

A 12-week group called “Creative Ease” emerged from that shift, which eventually morphed into Jewels on the Path, one of my cornerstone groups.

Some ideas come fast and furious, sprung like Athena whole and complete, and I often take what one of my sisters affectionately calls a “shoot, ready, aim” approach to putting things out there. I trust the idea and then dive into the details, rather than the other way around. I love the playfulness and trust this entails.

But it doesn’t always work.

Shitty First Drafts, in its original inception, didn’t quite work. The format of the group was too close to other things I already offer, and I couldn’t for the life of me articulate who it was for or what would make it special.

Until it hit me: The name of this program won’t be Shitty First Drafts, a phrase made famous by Anne Lamott. It will be something even simpler. Ready for it?

JUST WRITE.

That’s right. Just that. Six weeks of just writing. Showing up once a week to put your pen to paper, to start and keep going, to let your words show up on the page and your voice take up room in space. To connect with others in an intimate setting, where we are all in it together.

How will it work?

  1. We’ll gather via Zoom (download here) and spend 30 minutes writing. There may be a reading or prompt to start us off, but the purpose of this time is to sit down and get words on the page.
  2. Following the writing period, each participant will have 15 minutes to read their words out loud and receive comments and feedback from the group.
  3. Each participant will be assigned a week to be the Featured Writer. She’ll send out a piece in advance for the rest of us to read, and have our undivided attention for 20 minutes of workshop-style discussion about her work, including addressing any specific feedback requests.
  4. Our time will conclude with each writers stating an intention or writing goal for the coming week. Writers may choose to continue with one piece of writing or to generate new material — the choice is yours, the time is yours.
  5. Two  40-minute coaching calls . We can use these to talk about specific pieces of writing, to brainstorm and bounce around ideas, and to address any challenges your faces and ways forward.

Why so simple?

Because sometimes all we need is the loosest of containers, the gentlest accountability, the fewest bells and the quietest whistles. At the end of the day — which is when this group will occur — it’s ultimately about showing up, sitting down, and just writing. Shitty first drafts and perhaps more polished drafts will follow, or not. The words you discover might be seeds of longer pieces, fragments of dreams, freewrites you’ll discard completely, or something else altogether. One of the only things I know for sure about the writing process is this: Writing begets writing. And having a small, supportive community of listeners and witnesses creates some mighty magic.

What else is included in the cost?

In addition to 2.5 hours per week together as a group, of both silent writing time and group sharing and discussion, you’ll schedule two 40-minute calls with me. We can use this time to focus on specific pieces of writing, to tease out where you get blocked, and to play with ways to continue to go deeper into your own work. There’s no specific agenda for our calls; this is your time, and a chance to talk about whatever’s going on for you in writing + life.

Will the calls be recorded?

The calls will be recorded. We will have a secret Facebook group for the express purpose of sharing these, in case you miss one and/or simply want to go back to listen to comments on your work again. The Facebook group will also be a place to share encouragement and support throughout the week.

Who should join:

Anyone who wants to produce more pages but finds that perfectionism and procrastination interfere with progress. This group is open to all gender identities and expressions as well as to all genres, though creative nonfiction and personal essay will likely comprise most of the writing. No previous experience in writing groups necessary. This group is also totally compatible with any of Jena’s other writing groups.

Do I need a particular project?

No, though it’s also fine if you do.

Risks and possible side-effects:

Heightened self-awareness, greater curiosity and sense of inquiry, deepening sense of trust in your own quirky and wondrous creative process, and increased willingness to keep going in the face of not knowing may all arise as secondary byproducts of this group.

Can I sign up for the calls and not the coaching?

Not for this group. In order to ensure a high level of participation and commitment, everyone in the Just Write groups will be working with me privately in addition to meeting with the group. If you’re interested in a super supportive, long-term (12 week) accountability group, check out Jewels on the Path. Or drop me a line and we can discuss what would be a good fit.

Dates + Times:

Two sections will kick off the new year:

Tuesdays, 1:00-3:30PM EST: January 16, 23, 30, February 6 , 13, 27 (3 remaining spots)
OR
Thursdays: , 5:30-8:00PM EST: January 18, 25, February 8, 15, March 1 (6 spots)

please note there will be no groups on 2/20 and 2/22 

Cost:

$419

Register + Payment:

Registration deadline is Friday, January 5, 2018.

Reserve your spot today with a non-refundable $99 deposit. You will be automatically billed for two additional installments of $160, two and four weeks after registering. Or use the “Buy Now” button below to pay in full.

Don’t forget to send me a note telling me which group you’d like to join (Tuesdays or Thursdays).


Payment Plan
Number of payments 3
No. Due* Amount
1 At checkout $99.00 USD
2 after 2 weeks $160.00 USD
3 after 4 weeks $160.00 USD
Total $419.00 USD
* We calculate payments from the date of checkout.
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OR pay in full: 

Layla-Saad

I Am Here. I’m Here. Here I’m…

Hi. I am here.

I am here where I so often am, in a blue chair at the kitchen table. My back faces north and my front faces south. On my left is a pantry. A fridge. A coffee mug with a “J” on it. On the right, a wall with a bit of peeling paint on the molding. My right wrist rests gently on the edge of the laptop. I take a deep breath and this feels good so I take another and a third, through my nostrils. It’s nice to have clear nasal passages. The kind of thing you so often take for granted until a bad cold hits.

I am here and it’s Wednesday morning. The house is quiet. Mani is in our room. She might be meditating. Aviva is still asleep. Pearl rode his bike to school about half hour ago. Earlier I had music on, but now it’s just the sounds of the keys clicking, and the breathing, and if I listen closely, a faint humming kind of sound outside, the source of which I can’t identify.

From here, the mind goes in so many directions. To a dream I had last night, where I was holding a large, sharp knife in the middle of a busy intersection. I was standing on some kind of median. Plenty of people were around but nobody said anything about the knife and I was alarmed that they weren’t alarmed and knew this was privilege in action. I had no malicious intent. And then I realize I’d sliced my own leg — the back, inner right thigh had a fairly gaping wound. I was bleeding and ran inside to strip off my pants and see how deep it was. I also had my period and so there was a lot of blood.

I am here, still, even as I remember the dream.

For many years, “hineni” is a word that has spoken directly to my soul. God asked Abraham, where are you? Which in itself is mysterious, right? I mean, presumably God can see where everyone is, in whatever way it is God sees. But my take on it is that God was really asking Abraham, do YOU know where you are? Like, where are you REALLY? And Abraham answered, Hineni. I am here. I hear this as, I am here, and also I am HERE. I am here and I know I am here. The two are not one.

I am here and I know I am here.

I am here and I am not here.

I am here and I am a body and a mind and a miracle of all systems go. I am here and typing and imagining you there, which is another miracle. My god. My God. God, do you see how many miracles are taking place right this very minute? I sound like a religious fanatic and I’ve probably said it before but I am ok with that.

We started watching “Alias Grace,” a show based on the Margaret Atwood book. In fact, Atwood is one of the producers, which makes me happy because it indicates her approval of the show’s translation of her writing for the screen. Back then, did you know they didn’t use contractions? So there is a lot of “I do not” and “You will not” and “We are going” types of phrases. These lend a certain gravity to everything, and it fascinates me that a tiny symbol like the apostrophe, the slightest closing in of things, can cause an entire shift in tone. Suddenly everything sounds less important, more casual.

I am here. I’m here. Here I am. But “here I’m” doesn’t work without a gerund to follow it. I’m here writing. I’m here being here. I am here, gratefully so.