Jordan Rosenfeld Sun, 10 Dec 2017 17:59:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 48141702 Healing Generational Trauma Sat, 28 Jan 2017 23:27:56 +0000 Read More]]> This piece was originally published at Rewire Me:

It’s easy to see the traumas of your ancestors as merely painful blips in your family history. However, more and more research suggests that you stand the chance of inheriting an echo of these traumas in your very cells—in your epigenome—which may manifest in health conditions, a lowered ability to process stress, and/or predispositions to anxiety and depression.

Though each of us has a genetic code forged in the strands of our DNA that does not change, which you can compare to a computer, genes can, essentially, turn “on” or “off” via a process known as methylation in response to environmental changes (from trauma to chemical exposure). These changes to your genes, known as epigenetics—are like the “software” of your system.

Now, groundbreaking new research done by Sarah Kimmons at McGill University, in collaboration with Swiss researcher Antoine Peters, has found that another genetic component, known as histones, appear to make it possible for men to pass on epigenetic mutations or changes. Says John McCarrey, a molecular biologist and Director of the San Antonio Cellular Therapeutics Institute, “What’s more surprising is that a single exposure can lead to a change or set of changes in the epigenome that get transmitted not just in individual who incurred disruption but their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Rachel Yehuda, Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, is one of the leading researchers in the field of epigenetics and trauma, particularly in Holocaust survivors and their offspring. Despite the seemingly negative implications of epigenetic trauma changes, she feels they serve an evolutionary purpose, helping us to have a wider set of adaptations to a given situation. In an interview with On Being’s host, Krista Tippett, Yehuda says, “The purpose of epigenetic changes, I think, is simply to increase the repertoire of possible responses.”

When I wake up on a leisurely Saturday morning with the familiar, constant flutter beat of anxiety in my chest, I often think about the source of this feeling. My mind leaps to my paternal grandparents, with whom I was close until their deaths. Naphtali Rosenfeld and Tamar Weingarten were Jews coming of age in a Germany on the brink of the horror that Hitler would perpetuate. They would be the lucky ones, teenagers who left for Palestine with Zionist youth groups before Hitler’s “final solution” began to murder Jews. Their parents, however, were not lucky. Their parents died in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Not long before his death, Opa brought me papers, photocopies of ancient handwritten letters written by his father, sent in the late ‘30s from a terrorized Germany to the Palestinian kibbutz where Opa lived. “He begged me to get him out of Germany,” Opa said, rare tears filling his eyes. “And I couldn’t do it. I had no money.”

Though Opa was himself in his 90s when he showed me these letters, he couldn’t get rid of these papers because, he said, it felt akin to abandoning his father all over again. Opa suffered severe survivor’s guilt, tremendous anxiety and almost OCD need for control of everything in his life. This guilt travels down my family line like a serpent through our cells. It manifests in my father, it bubbles up in me, and in my two half-siblings. We are all prone to anxiety that, at times, can become panic.

Newer research has begun to look at the lingering effects of survivor’s guilt, as well. Reactions afterward, says Dr Josh Klapow, associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and a clinical psychologist, “May range from a broad array of acute stress reaction symptoms—nightmares, intrusive thoughts, severe anxiety, hyper-vigilance—to complete emotional numbness as his natural and hard-wired psychological defense mechanisms kick in.”

This information need not be discouraging. Knowledge is power, and the body is wiser than we realize. Consider that if one set of circumstances, such as trauma, caused epigenetic changes in your ancestors’ and your own biology, then making strides toward healing can make yet more changes, hopefully for the better.

Yehuda believes that the first step in treating trauma, whether directly yours, or a biological echo of your elders, is first to attempt to understand it, and then to put it in a context of meaning.

Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl, famed for his book Man’s Search for Meaning, was one of the first to make the case for the pursuit of meaning as necessary to heal from trauma.

Further research suggests that learning the details of your family history, writing down your own trauma, can help. Dr Arielle Schwartz, a clinical psychologist, has these tips for healing the trauma of your ancestors:

  • Reflect on the generations before you (both those living and deceased) including their hardships and accomplishments.
  • Make a family tree and research your roots.
  • Frame and make visible photos of your ancestors.
  • Take a moment of gratitude for those who came before you
  • Create your own family traditions to strengthen your family identity

Those who treat trauma agree that while you can’t change the past, you do have the power to affect the future, taking steps toward your own healing, or for the greater good.

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They’re Coming For You: Survivor’s Guilt and New Anti-Semtism Sat, 28 Jan 2017 03:32:05 +0000 Read More]]> In light of fresh hate crimes, anti-Semitism, and the terrifyingly nationalist moves of the Trump administration, I’m republishing this piece, originally published at Jewish Journal.

* * *

Never forget, goes the Jewish pledge after the Holocaust.

But I am guilty of forgetting.

The day my grandmother, “Oma” died, peacefully at home, Opa handed me a stack of papers, chewing his lips, a sign that he had something difficult to tell me. I looked closely to see mimeographs of very old letters, in his native German, though he spoke Hebrew and English just as fluently.

“My father,” he said at last, brows clenched in a V. “These are the last letters he ever sent me. Begging me to help him out of Germany. But I could not help him. I had no means. The last letters.”

He looked up at me, a man who had never grown beyond 5′ 2″ due to poor nutrition, I felt giant in my five months’ pregnant state. What he didn’t say, I knew nonetheless: his parents had met their ends in Hitler’s concentration camps while Opa was digging gardens on a Kibbutz in Palestine (yet to become Israel). One day, letters arrived from his father begging to be saved—letters whose copies he now held in his hand. Then another day: silence.

“I want to give them to you someday,” he said. Me, the writer, family recorder, keeper of important deeds. “I can’t abandon him twice.”

I told myself I would find them, keep them—since he wouldn’t relinquish them to me that day. But somewhere, in the shuffle of chaos after the birth of my son and his death a year later, the letters disappeared, and left me with a weight of complicity. I, too, had abandoned my great-grandfather.

Survivor’s guilt, they call it—that you should be lucky enough to live, when others should die. Until the day my Opa showed me his father’s last letters, I hadn’t understood how powerful this guilt laced its fingers through my family. But I should have—guilt is my first language; it is the braille beneath my father’s fingers you can read with just a touch, engaged as he was for most of my childhood in an illicit living behind the smokescreen of a normal life. Me, complicit in keeping the secret that allowed our livelihood. It is the shame I still carry, as though I made him do it.

Guilt drove most of my Opa’s communications—always reminding us of our failures to write, to visit, to remember a birthday, though it was driven by a desire to keep us all close. I tried to understand him, even as we were shaped by such vastly different influences—me, a child of hippies in California, while not so different perhaps from those early, halcyon years on the kibbutz, carved of completely foreign pillar stones. How must Opa have felt when, after the war ended, the truth of the concentration camps trickled in to my grandparents’ briefly peaceful little world.

“We didn’t know what was happening in Germany,” he told me, when I finally thought to ask. “Not the true horrors.” I both believed him, and I didn’t. Jewish merchants were already facing boycotts in 1933 when Opa left Germany with a Zionist youth group. When your father writes you letters begging you to pull him out of Germany after that, and then one day the letters simply cease, you must know the truth is grim. But you can’t allow yourself to know the real subterranean truth. Knowing means to sink into the despair that you are working diligently to stave off.

My guilt is nothing as significant as Opa’s, a kind of constant rumble beneath the edges of my being. I don’t want to burden you, trouble you with my problems. Am I talking too loud? Am I taking up too much space? Is something broken? Even if I didn’t do it, I feel bad anyway. When my grandparents were alive, sometimes I felt guilty that my life was so easy in comparison to what they had suffered.

And then, January 13, this headline in the LA Times: “Jews worry about their future in France after attack on kosher market” just a day after the horrific Charlie Hebdo tragedy. Though anti-Muslim sentiment made most news, this information struck me with the most terror.

Oh my god they’re coming for you, I thought. The words surprised even me as they passed through my mind.

Several years earlier, my father, then in his early 60s had expressed a secret fear to me about how he doesn’t like to share his last name publicly, that in some way back part of his mind, he is still afraid.

“You really think the Nazis could rise again?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Not necessarily the Nazis, but someone, somehow.”

I admit, I thought him a little silly. Paranoid, perhaps at best, and traumatized, at worst, by his parents’ stories.

Though, there was a way in which I related to his fear, though mine came from a different source: just as I had worked myself into anxiety as a child, fearing the police would pound down our doors and take my father away for his illegal living, my father had grown up with a fear driven deep by his parents’ trauma, that the Nazis might return for his family and take them all away. Guilt for simply bearing a Jewish name.

Yet, since fresh gouts of anti-Semitism keeps rising in scope and violence, I feel a new guilt, that I am a failed Jew; one who couldn’t even keep track of her great-grandfather’s final words, who has broken the sacred contract to “never forget.” I, who legally erased my Jewish last name through marriage to a Scandinavian. Though I publish under my maiden name, I could disappear inside my husband’s name at any time, my son cradled within its safety, too. Unlike my father with his fear of saying his last name aloud, I’d always taken a secret pleasure in being Jordan Rosenfeld, so unlike the Tiffanys and Jennifers I went to school with, a name that holds a dark history. When we were shown the horrible video in ninth grade history class, indelible images of bodies stacked in concentration camp trenches, smoke rising from oven rooms, I felt something you might call a morbid pride; my people had suffered, and this somehow made me special.

And yet, Opa had told me pointedly many years before, “What are the Jews chosen to do, except suffer?”

What is special about death?

This new wave of anti-Semitism  is especially troubling to me, who does not, nor have I ever, practiced Judaism—who would have to legally convert to the religion since it is only in my father’s line. Yet, like my father, I, too, have an irrational fear. Oh my god they’re coming for you,

Research has been done on second generation Holocaust survivors, suggesting that the (grown) children have a kind of secondary PTSD at worst, and at best, experience guilt or other angst over their parents’ experiences. And while research does not conclusively agree if the third generation can be said to experience indirect trauma, other studies on epigenetics suggest there might, at the very least, by physiological traces.

Whether biological or psychological, I can certainly trace the layers of guilt in my own life back to my grandparents. My father admitted that his draw toward the secrecy of making money illicitly gave him an almost endorphin-like rush, guilt turned on its head, like a drug. You want me to feel guilty, he seemed to suggest, how do you like me now?

What I know is this: guilt is not a helpful state of being. My father cleared out his father’s effects, likely including my great-grandfather’s letters, because those things were too potent a reminder of their long and complex relationship. Perhaps it was never my job to be the bearer of those letters at all. But that doesn’t mean I’m content to forget. Recent events around the world prove to me that remembering is more crucial than ever.

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Cathedral of Doubts: Writing Prompt Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:43:05 +0000 Read More]]> If you’d like to join me in the “process over product” writing prompt game I’ve undertaken in order to write more fiction in 2017, today’s writing prompt from my Writing Prompts app came from a suggested setting: “Cathedral.” And attitude: “Cynical.” I hope you’ll join me in playing your writing in 2017!


Maggie could tell by the way Abby kept raising her eyebrows and grinning that she was supposed to feel impressed by the splendor, the grandeur of the Cathedral with its pointy ornate parts and spirals and architectural conceits that likely all probably had fancy names for things like wall and joint and screw. But all she felt was cold. Why did she always forget to bring a sweater to San Francisco, which had its own climate, a little fog-belt of misery? Maggie felt a little jangled by the way people’s voices ricocheted off of all that emptiness, fritzing in her brain. She often didn’t know she needed silence until it was too late, and the world was screeching and buzzing around her.

“Don’t you just feel the sacredness instantly?” Abby was bouncing, actually bouncing, like a child and not like the twenty-six year old woman she actually was. Though, at a glance, with her youthfully high cheekbones and full lips, hair that was usually a color not found in nature—today, maraschino cherry red—people did often mistake Abby for a teenager. They passed the pews and headed toward the “piece de la resistance,” as Abby had called it, at the Cathedral’s center.

Maggie forced a smile. She didn’t want to let Abby down. Abby needed this. She needed a win, to feel like there was good and hope in the world. “It’s nice,” Maggie forced out.

Abby wheeled, hands on hips, one eyebrow carving a disapproving line through her pale forehead. “Nice?” Her tone was schoolmistress sharp. “Okay, what’s wrong?”

Maggie opened her mouth in protest. Nothing was wrong. She was fine. Fine, really. Sure, she might be working as a retail sales clerk for her father for the foreseeable future. Sure, her mother might actually be dying this time. Sure, her boyfriend-if-that’s-what-he-was liked to disappear without notice and would not tell her anything about his dark and twisted past. But she was fine.

“Maaaags. You better tell me.”

Maggie shook her head. “Nothing I can’t handle.” She felt better, at least, when she gazed at the figure of Jesus outlined in stained glass, hung upon the cross for all of humanity’s sins, or whatever the fuck it was. Now that she thought of it, was it sacrilegious to stand in a house of worship if you didn’t believe? Did it somehow contaminate the holiness of the site? It wasn’t the religiosity of Jesus that appealed to her, anyway, but the gruesomeness of his death—she couldn’t help but scour the image looking for blood at the site of the nails in his hands. Dirt caked upon his tired toes. Bruising beneath his eyes. There was none of that, of course. Just beatific, shiny vaguely Aryan Jesus with that bemused smile that was entirely  inappropriate, as though death was a day at the spa. Of course, this was stained glass, just how much detail did she expect?

But she followed Abby obediently because if Abby could find something sacred in this place, Abby who had known so little love and comfort in her life, then Maggie sure as hell could suck it up and try.

Abby made an audible gasp at the center of the room that made several others look at her. Maggie had to breathe deeply through her nose to keep from making “What the fuck are you looking at glares” at these strangers. I don’t care if she spontaneously bursts into flames, Maggie thought at the strangers. You keep your nosy gazes to yourselves. Perhaps her glower was better than she thought—they went back to their business and Maggie stepped foot on the white spirals of the labyrinth feeling protective of her friend. Here to help her friend have a spiritual epiphany or mystical moment.

“Monks and nuns over the centuries have used labyrinths as meditations. You start at the beginning with a problem in your mind and you let God or whatever help you figure it out as you walk. When you reach the center, you should get an answer.”

Maggie looked down at her formerly red, now mostly muddy brown Converse framed against the pale white tiles at the tip of the labyrinth. What question did she have for the divine, for forces bigger than herself? Where to start? She felt twinges of guilt for the questions she did not want to ask. Not about her mother’s fate, nor even her own. What she wanted to know, more than anything else, the thing that kept her up at night and had since she was eleven and had first seen Jake Green’s missing posters, more than 15 years before he would fall into her life was this: What really happened to Jake, and how could she get him to tell her?

Ski slope. Roulette wheel. Writing Prompt Tue, 03 Jan 2017 05:03:13 +0000 Read More]]> In keeping with my goal to write more fiction without any pressure, structure or guidelines, here’s day two of short prompt writing. Join me in the same prompt, or even take my short piece of writing as a starting point to prompt your own story!

Ski slope. Roulette wheel. Prompt from the Writing Prompts app, by

She stared down the slope of sleek gleaming white with a mixture of awe and ragged, pounding terror. The night sky bloomed with stars, so many, like a woman flaunting a neck full of diamonds. When was the last time she’d seen so much sky, wide open and unencumbered by the boxed edges of suburbia? In her life back home, sky was an afterthought, a measure of conditions that would effect plans.

While she appreciated the beauty of both vast sky and beckoning ski slope, these facts could not fix the dry mouth and panic sweat gathered beneath her polar fleece. He had coaxed her up here with so many certainties and reassurances and then he’d left her behind—shooting down the black diamond slope like a steel blade through butter.

She had no way of knowing if he’d purposely left her behind, to shame or, or if he thought her competitive streak would kick in and she’d muster sudden courage. All she wanted was to sip spiked cocoa at the lodge, but instead she was facing impossible choices with a roulette wheel’s odds: ski down and in all likelihood inure herself, or crawl pitifully down like some sad, beaten creature. As she stood contemplating these odds, the halogen lamps of the resort shining falsely clear alleys of light on the snow below, she heard what sounded like the cries of a child.

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In an Orange Room: Writing Prompts and the New Year Mon, 02 Jan 2017 02:14:00 +0000 Read More]]> Wow, I haven’t blogged in a long time. A LONG time. I mean, I have been busy: I’ve spent the last three years turning a flailing freelance career into a full-time career, writing hundreds of articles, a couple books, and editing some manuscripts. But I’ve always always said: if you really want to write, you write. You find the time.

I miss my fiction the most in the flurry of work, and though I’m not a big maker of New Year’s resolutions, I am a huge fan of dedicated writing practice, particularly inspired by #continuouspractice by Saundra Goldman. I aim to write a little tiny twinkle of fiction as many days of the year as possible. The guidelines will be loose. I will put as few restrictions on the process as possible, with the goal being just that: process. Some of these may be a few lines. Other times pages. Who knows!

I’ll be using prompts gleaned from all over, and invite you to join me. I’ll post my results here, and encourage you to share yours with me.

Writing prompt gleaned from the app “writing prompts” by Writing.Com: 

“In an orange room. A nurse. A silver medal. Mint.”

In an orange room things clang silver and sharp and taste like metal. I wonder where I am but only orange light and foreign scents prevail. Somewhere below orange is my body, but it’s numb or distant or far away from me and I can’t remember its precise shape and contours. Meatslab flesh prone to bruising I think, too pale, a stars cape of dark moles like a map to mysteries I must spend my whole life configuring.

Orange ebbs to soft yellow to bright white, sharp again, a light for cutting through and opening up–and behind it a smiling nurse, haloed in mint that squeezes my nostrils with its pungency. A scent filled out by other notes, a mane of scents stitched together with chemical threads to form a perfume that shoulders though gentle air, assaulting.

She comes with instruments to probe and explore, and I turn away at their stabbing proximity, but she grasps my jaw and coos like I am a frightened animal. “Just a looksee.”

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Rebecca Lawton: The wilderness inside and out Mon, 29 Feb 2016 13:00:21 +0000 Read More]]> The first time I heard Rebecca Lawton read, she held a packed room of people enthralled to a tale of a harrowing, heart-pumping river raft expedition so gripping it was hard to believe this was drawn from her own life, not a high-stakes novel; that was out of her book of essays, Reading Water. I knew in that moment I wanted to get to know this fantastic writer better, and soon I was lucky enough to get my wish when she helped me get hired at the non-profit environmental organization where she worked. There, she and I spent many a lunch break writing and learning how to attract more publishing success our way, which led to our co-authoring Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life, first published by BeijaFlor Books, and now re-published with a  revised second edition by Booktrope Editions. Since then, Becca continually amazes me with her writing, which is both literary and rich in plot, which invokes important topics and the natural world, as well as rich, fully fledged human characters, and an attention to detail that is unparalleled. Here, she answers a few important questions about the writing life with her signature insights:

Tell me about how (and why) the natural world infuses everything you write?

RL: That’s something that happens without my forcing it—it’s natural, I guess. The things we love just work their way into our hearts and art, don’t they? I was brought up with a lot of outdoor experiences—camping in the desert, backpacking, sailing, swimming. The space filled my heart and soul. My parents passed a lot of reverence for wild things to my siblings and me: birds, animals, water, forests, canyons. I get that many, many people love cities and beautiful objects. I love some aspects of those things, too. I try to understand how they could be more motivating than they are to me, and I do intellectually, because I want to respect the loves of others.

The things we love just work their way into our hearts and art, don’t they?

An adoration for the built world is not something I feel in my own gut, though, the way I thrill to seeing a fox hustling with a squirrel in its jaws to feed its family, say, or the sound and sight of wind whirling in the tops of trees.

We love what we love. And we write what we love. My characters also have wildness in them, some aspect of their nature they’re trying to understand or change. So nature—that wildness in us and around us—often embroiders or becomes the very foundation for my creations.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have different processes for writing fiction versus nonfiction?

RL: My writing process is always evolving, but these days my workdays are filled with fiction writing in the morning and nonfiction in the afternoon. Although I love to write short fiction, I’m not working on any at the moment. When I rise in the dark to write before breakfast, I’m working on long pieces. Novels, actually. In the afternoons, after some sort of break like a swim or walk or weight training, I approach my nonfiction one piece at a time. For either type of writing, I start with a quick mind map. Emptying my thoughts onto one page of paper, I then have a guide to what to integrate into the rise and fall of the narrative, whether it involves fictional characters and their made-up homes or people and places found in the real world.

So nature—that wildness in us and around us—often embroiders or becomes the very foundation for my creations.

I hear you’ve been working on a mystery novel. This is something of a departure from other styles you’ve written in. How is it different? What do you like about it?

RL: I started out to write a mystery—in the genre experiment that you and I began with our online writing group two or three years ago. As part of a lifelong endeavor to reach out to readers through engaging story, I drafted a mystery around California water wars, based on my decades of work in the northern part of the state as a stream scientist. Then I was awarded the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in 2014-15 at the University of Alberta and put everything I was doing on hold while I lived in Edmonton and researched a second novel in the genre series. What’s developed, though, isn’t really genre at all; it’s literary fiction with mystery at the core. And, of course, the natural world and wild human nature figure prominently in it.

What’s different about the “mystery” work is that it starts with a death or accident—some inciting incident that puts the entire story in motion. Up until now, I’ve incorporated death later in the course of some stories. One of my first writing colleagues said, “People die all the time in your writing. If there are two characters, I can be sure that one of them will die.”

It’s true that at that time I’d lost some close friends from my river running life, and loss was on my mind. Later I began to have more control of who lived and died rather than just being driven by the need to understand their passing. And that’s something that’s been freeing about the genre-but-not-genre work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten, that you still abide by?

RL: My friend Louise Teal, who wrote Breaking into the Current about Grand Canyon boatwomen, is someone I’ve traded manuscripts with over the years. One of the lessons she learned when pitching publishers for that book was that it helped to let her query letters rest at least twenty-four hours before mailing them. (Everything was sent by postal service then.) “That’s the least I can do,” she said, about how many moving parts there were to being a writer. Any of us, formally trained or not, can take this bit of advice—just let the work simmer at least overnight before sharing. It’s certainly prevented some (but not all) embarrassments for me.

Any of us, formally trained or not, can take this bit of advice—just let the work simmer at least overnight before sharing.

What are you working on next?

RL: I’m working on a couple of books in progress (I have a small stream of article work I’m doing now as well). I’m polishing my novel from Canada as I query agents to represent it because my former agent is retiring. Once that’s sent off, I’ll return to the Sonoma book in the same series. I’m also advancing work on a book of nonfiction—a collection of essays on desert palm oases and how they’re affected by falling groundwater levels. And I’m striving to be a better worker—one who can get things done and still take time off with my friends and family.


Rebecca Lawton has written seven books (including Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life with Jordan Rosenfeld). Rebecca’s articles have been published in Aeon, Hakai, More, Shenandoah, Sierra, THEMA, and many other journals. She’s earned a Fulbright Award, Ellen Meloy Desert Writer’s Award, Waterston Desert Writing Prize, WILLA Award, three Pushcart Prize nominations, residencies at Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers, The Island Institute, and Playa, and other honors. The tenth anniversary edition of her bestselling book on whitewater life, Reading Water, is now available.


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Adopting a Growth Mindset Mon, 04 Jan 2016 15:10:19 +0000 Read More]]> The holidays always seem like a forceful end parenthesis to cap another speedy year. How did we get here again? I found myself thinking over the detritus of my son’s gleeful package unwrapping. So, dutifully, I made myself spend some time with my journal writing down  the many events and milestones that transpired in that blur of last year. More and more research shows that the brain responds well to that which we put into words on the page. In fact, as Anya Kamentz wrote in New York Magazine, writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. She refers to the work of a researcher, aptly named Jordan Petersen, who suggests this helps build a “growth mindset.” In fact, I think that’s my buzz word for 2016. Growth mindset. That suggests room for both success and experimentation (I don’t say failure anymore). I want to grow in my own life, and be around people who generate growth in their own.

“But the idea behind self-authoring is sound, as it taps into what researchers call a growth mind-set, the idea that adopting the mind-set that your strengths and abilities are not fixed, but can improve over time and with effort, can have self-fulfilling results.”

Before we dip deep into that growth mindset for 2016, I encourage you to also take stock of 2015. It may have been a difficult year for you personally, but I am not alone in believing that difficulty always has the ability to carve us open deeper with empathy, makes us more capable of becoming what the Buddhists call Bodhisattvas–making ourselves of service to others on the path. I can find hundreds of examples where a personal loss drove a person to make greater change in the world. I don’t believe that this means one’s personal suffering will (or should) go away, but I do believe in making positive change in the world, no matter how small, which needs us all so much. And this has been a year of great tragedy and suffering, calling on many of us to put aside our feelings of helplessness and do something. Look at what the #compassioncollective achieved (created by 5 authors, happily)–raising $1million dollars in 31 hours in $25 increments for Syrian refugees. Look at what the Humans of New York founder has done for the people he photographs.

Join me in taking stock of 2015. Get out a notebook and a pen (I recommend doing these by hand) and write down:

The three most difficult things you endured. These may be personal or global. They may be things that happened to other people, but which affected you. And if you can, ask yourself how that hardship changed you. I won’t go so far as to suggest that all negativity and pain makes you a better person, but it often brings insight, welcome or not:

How can I be of service most immediately to the people in my path?

  • Watching people near and dear to me suffer through very big challenges. This helped me learn to take better care of myself emotionally and physically and adopt a more “service-oriented” mindset; i.e. how can I be of service most immediately to the people in my path?
  • Some unexpected reliving of the most painful times of my childhood. Got back to therapy. Remembered to let go of what I can’t control.
  • My son’s painful transition from end of summer to 2nd grade, which also came with a developmental leap for him, and showed me that I have more patience and compassion than I thought I did. It tested my ability to be present for his struggle in ways I could not anticipate. It reminded me that pain is most often helped, healed, and witnessed through love.

Pain is most often helped, healed, and witnessed through love.

The five most magnificent events that filled you with joy, pride, or hope. This includes your personal or work achievements; moments of peace; epiphanies, acts of self-care. These may have been hard won, with blood spilled and claws drawn, but you did it anyway:

The publication of three books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, which is my love letter to any struggling writer at any stage of the game, borne out of my own dark night of the soul; Writing Deep Scenes, with my dear co-author Martha Alderson, a book that will help pantsers and plotters alike; and my suspense novel Women in Red, which is about dance, but is really about the cost of not pursuing our true calling.Persistence_Large

  • After a 5 year hiatus when my son was born and little,  building a thriving freelance writing career again that is not just a flash in the pan, thanks to the support and resources of a wonderful all-women (and gender non-conforming) fellow writers. Self-sufficiency is something I’ve struggled with in this life, and I finally feel like I am pulling my weight in the world, and setting a good model for my son.
  • Publishing over 200 articles, blogs, and essays, including in publications I have long admired or which were “dream” pubs many years before, such as DAMEPacific Standard, Salon, the Atlantic (forthcoming), the Washington Post, and many more.
  • Signing a contract with Writer’s Digest Books for (and writing the first half of) a fourth writing guide, due out fall, 2016,  titled: Writing the Intimate Character: Mastering
  • Supporting my loved ones toward new vistas and dreams of greater purpose.
  • Learning to live more in the here and now, taking deep breaths and baby steps.jr_womaninred

My favorite places to read others’ work:

Brain Pickings

The Establishment

STIR Journal

Sweatpants & Coffee

Vela Magazine

My favorite published pieces of my own this year:

The Water or the Wife, East Bay Review. A short story about literal drought, and the inner thirst that accompanies grief.

My Years as a Kleptomaniac. The Billfold.

They’re Coming For You. Survivor’s Guilt and New anti-semitism. Jewish Journal.

Why More & More Parents are Opting Their Kids Out of Homework at Alternet

A Failure to Feed. Brain, Child

Why I Plan to Hover as My Son Becomes a Teen for STIR Journal


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See Your Life From a New Perspective: Renewal Retreat Tue, 01 Dec 2015 16:45:45 +0000

Martha and I welcome you to a very special day of renewal for yourself in the midst of the holiday bustle. Press pause to take time for yourself to focus on your own goals and desires. Click the video link above to see a preview of the retreat. There’s still time to register, which you can do HERE.

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Friday Roundup Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:56:24 +0000 Read More]]> Hey everybody. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve dropped off blogging (or you haven’t noticed until now, when you’re getting this long overdue halllllooooo!). Well, freelance life has been busy, and that’s a good thing in so many ways, but it also means less of this.

Resources and Awesome Posts For You:

This Startup Will Piss Off Publishers and Make Freelancers Happy Contently

Master Scene Types for Page-Turning Plots at Writer Unboxed

5 Ways You Can Improve Your Mood Right Now (Sweatpants & Coffee has a clean new web design)

An Alpine Antidote to Working Weekends NY Times

4 Ways to Take Better Breaks at mental_floss

Here are my most recent articles. Stay tuned for some really helpful ones on Freelancing in the next couple of weeks:

New Test Detects All Viruses That Infect Animals and Humans at mental_floss

Getting Girls Excited about STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) at Alternet

Scientists Successfully Create Brain-to-Brain Link at mental_floss

Train Your Brain to Overcome Social Anxiety at Rewire Me


Don’t forget to check out the upcoming WriterPath Renewal Retreat, Saturday December 12, 2015. 10-5, Villa Del Mar, Santa Cruz, CA.  A day-long writing retreat at



Being Enough Fri, 16 Oct 2015 12:00:58 +0000 Read More]]> When I want something so badly in my writing life—a specific publication, a certain agent, even a precise level of success— it becomes a physical sensation in my muscles, all of them taut and straining as if toward a reward dangling in a window just out of reach. My suffering matches the agony of my 7 year-old when denied that extra cookie or piece of candy, its very presence in the house contorting his face.

Success can be narcotic in its effects. Over time, you need more and more to achieve the same level of internal fulfillment with each acceptance, paycheck or accolade. I am especially prone to this, as a self-employed writer. Each win is especially big for me, because I did it with my own labor (though always with a base of mentorship and plenty of camaraderie along the way). So I court the next one and the next one.

This can lead to rushing. Rushing a piece of writing out, or rushing it off to publication where it will meet, inevitably, with rejection. It’s a form of self-sabotage, really. Patience brings depth. But it’s a learned skill.

At the end of last year I had a session with my massage therapist. We wrote down my intentions. This was a few months before the New Year, and these didn’t feel like resolutions so much as long-reaching, deep commitments to how I want to be in the world.

They went as follows:

1. I intend to be enough.
2. I intend to be internally fulfilled so I can be authentic in the world.
3. I intend to be in service through my writing
4. I intend to model this for my son so that he may have the same.

Frankly, the first and second intentions, which are indelibly intertwined, are my most difficult challenges. What does it mean to be enough? It means you stop grasping and judging yourself. It means you accept your life as it is given to you. But are those things in alignment with developing a writing career? Yes and no. Yes when #2 is in action: I am internally fulfilled. This is where many of us writers struggle. How often do you base your value on your accomplishments? On how well people respond to your writing? On whether you sell it to a big publisher or publish it yourself? How much of your worth flows directly into what you produce or what others say about what you write?

If you’re struggling with any of these issues, I encourage you to join me in a few habits:

1. Take to your journal and investigate your internal landscape. What’s happening inside you? Sometimes you can find reflections in the external world, or inspire a piece of writing. If nothing else, you might ask yourself what it is you’re really chasing after.

2. Spend five minutes soaking in a feeling of pride or satisfaction you’ve experienced any time recently for something you wrote—extra bonus points if it’s something nobody has yet seen.

3. Give every piece of writing one more pass before you send it out because this forces you to go slow, take care, not rush.

4. Simply say to yourself: I’m enough. There’s enough time. Go for a walk or eat some chocolate.


Photo, “The color filled droplet” by MJKimmel, with quote by Earnest Hemingway, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

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