Mindful Writing Workshops: OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love My Work Again

Many of us long to return to that original love that we once had for our art. As we get older, our excitement and delight that is often eclipsed by over-thinking, comparing, worrying, procrastinating and countless other forms of resistance.

Writing is always going to be challenging work, but it is possible to completely revolutionize your process by re-thinking your relationship to your work & learning a few quick and easy techniques that can help dissolve your blocks and make your writing/creative process way more joyful and productive.

Check out these two mindful writing workshops I am offering in September: 

SATURDAY SEPT. 20 1-4: Introduction to Mindful Writing

Drawing from literature, contemporary psychology and Buddhist texts, this class will explore how:

The concept of “no self” can revolutionize our relationship to writing.

Simple mindfulness meditations and techniques can calm fear and neutralize negative self-talk and perfectionism

 Mindful writing can give our writing and our lives a deeper sense of purpose and pleasure

 SATURDAY SEPT. 27 1-4: Maintaining your Mindful Writing Practice

 Using simple 3-minute breath and yoga techniques, this workshop will give writers valuable tools to:

 Maintain a mindful writing process by shifting focus from thinking to breathing

 Create purpose and momentum in the artistic process

 Generate creative energy and increase mental clarity and intuition

 Gain confidence

 Quickly overcome creative blocks

 $35 per class or $60 for both

4949 Hollywood Blvd. 

Los Angeles, California 90027

 Sign up or Just Show Up!

For more information contact:

Jocelyn Heaney


 If you ever feel like this man when you sit down to write, mindful writing workshops can help.


Day 320 5/11/14: The Marvels of BeeKeeping 101

a“Any volunteers? It’s full of protein,” said the beekeeper, holding up two small globs of larvae on something that looked like an exotic fork or comb.


“I’ll try it.” A woman raised her gloved hand and unzipped her bee hood.


A murmur rippled through the similarly suited crowd at the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping 101 class.


We fell silent as she chewed.


“It’s…not very good…it tastes like leaves,” she said.

The larvae looked alien and white and we looked alien and white. It’s impossible not to channel a lonely B-movie robot when stepping inside the bee suit, with its strange square veil stretched over a “Dr. Livingston I presume” style hat and Jackie-O inaugural-length gloves that are heavy leather, not satin.

My dear friend Lisa is starting her very own hive and needs a friend to help her, so I travel to a beautiful rambling spread beneath the Wildlife Way Station once a month and learn about smokers and drones and excluders.

There’s no more useless feeling sometimes than being a poet. I space out while the master beekeeper explains how to clean the smoker without lighting oneself on fire, but will take up these weird fragments of trivia to my grave:

“Do NOT use powdered sugar and water in your feeder. The bees will become constipated. Use C&H cane sugar.”

That a bee might become constipated is almost as wild as a bee having mites. Today the beekeeper pulled the frames out of the bee box and held them up to the light to check the swarming brown bodies for parasites the size of half a rice grain. Passing a couple frames to a pair of eager students he exclaimed, “Get some sun in those cells!”

The students held the frames toward the sky, like weird amber mirrors. I imagined that his command involved some impossible scientific feat, that we had to allow the sun into the most forgotten, hidden and most obscure parts of ourselves.

I hoped he might say it again.

It’s easy to lose someone in a crowd of net-headed beekeepers, but I found Lisa and we crowded close to watch a drone birth: a single antennae waving from a plugged up cell.

I learned that the living bees eat the dead—another marvelous protein source.

A few weeks ago, I’d been deathly afraid of being stung when I finally donned the bee suit. Although every “I’m afraid” experience is preparation for the shark cage, I still remember getting stung when I was 12 years old, reading “A Catcher in the Rye” on our screened in front porch in Massachusetts. I remember the pain and then the cold. The ache in the arms and back. But today the bees swarmed around me. The sound is really sort of mesmerizing and wearing the bee suit  gave me some odd power of invisibility, as if I lived in a cone of silent strength.  And besides, I’d been told that these were polite bees with good, gentle, decent bee genes. And they were slightly loopy still from being “smoked out” of their hive, which dulls their aggressive hormones. The hormones smell like bananas.

The beekeeper who wore a hood but no gloves, opened the pollen drawer at the bottom of the hive, a tray overflowing with gold nuggets of dust and a few marauding ants. (Ant invasion can be stopped with repellent called Tanglefoot–a word I liked).

The pollen drawer!  Nature doesn’t have to try. It’s gorgeous and practical, functional and mysterious.

I felt sad when I had to leave early, change out of the bee suit Lisa had loaned me and drive all the way across the city to a workshop on “Ulysses” and the stream of consciousness technique. As I drove through the green, pollen-rich canyon, on my way to experience another kind of richness, I felt that being a poet was a pretty good thing, a way to inhabit a lot of worlds. As the great poet Frank O’Hara once said:

“Grace to be born and live

as variously as possible.”


Day 242 2/22/14: JAWS: Countdown to Ecstasy!

-1I am way too busy/excited/distracted to blog today. Why so busy? So animated? Why, there are only a few mere HOURS to go before the hilarious and astounding JAWS benefit reading: An Evening of Relentless Terror and Really Awkward Sex! 

Recoil as the shark reduces Chrissie Watkins to a mass of bone and jelly!

Thrill as married Ellen Brody reveals her torrid sexual fantasies to a cocky marine biologist!

Marvel at Martin Brody’s immense bladder!

Gasp as Quint makes fun of the shark’s genitals!

All for a mere $10!

Day 171 12/14/13: Visiting Van Gogh’s Mother

Once my brother Sean told me about a painting he “liked to visit” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A  Jackson Pollock. I guess it must have been “Number 10,” .  To visit a painting, like Rilke visited Cezanne, means to really spend time with it, and to learn how to see, how to look.

Yesterday I decided that I wanted to go find a painting to have a relationship with. When I say relationship, I don’t mean it like those crazy people I hear about on Howard Stern who declare their deep romantic attachments to Ferris Wheels, bridges, bows and arrows, and a host of very public monuments (if you’d like to learn more about these very “alternative” relationships, you can watch a documentary called “Married to the Eiffel Tower” ).

I just wanted a painting I could visit and study and get to know. The hunt for such a painting would be interesting even if I never found a canvas I could “settle down with.”

The closest museum to me is the sedate and manageable Norton Simon in Pasadena. I don’t mean to make it sound like a nursing home. There are lots of exciting paintings there and a beautiful pond outside. It’s just that if I don’t wear the right shoes to a museum, my feet ache after one hour, and even though the Getty Center has comfortable places to recline in the galleries, it can feel overwhelming.

One of Norton Simon’s most well-known paintings is Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.” I had seen it for the first time last year. It seems like famous pictures are either way smaller in person or monumental in a way that completely alters your conception of them–I felt that way when I saw Rousseau’s paintings for the first time. The Van Gogh picture is fairly small (16 X 12 3/4), but alive and electric as so many of his paintings are, and green—strange sickly green. According to the refreshingly direct wall text:

“By the autumn of 1888, Vincent van Gogh had settled into his Yellow House in Arles, and at the end of October he would welcome Paul Gauguin in what he hoped would become an artist’s collective—a “Studio of the South.” Portraits were on the Dutchman’s mind, as not only had he exchanged self-portraits with Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Charles Laval that same month, but he had also set out to complete a series of family portraits. According to van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, this portrait of their mother was based upon a black-and-white photograph. Of the portrait, the artist wrote, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.” Despite his intent to liven up her visage with his palette, van Gogh created a nearly monochromatic version—in a pallid, unnatural green. Nevertheless, this preeminent figure in the artist’s life sits attentive and proud—a model of middle-class respectability.”

I sat on a bench in front of the picture, feeling annoyed when other patrons crowded around MY painting. When they’d dispersed, I moved in for a closer look. What I love about her green flesh is that while it is so potentially alienating, the color of living death,  the overall impression of the picture is one of presence, as the museum put it: “attentiveness.”

Maybe I could become more alive by meditating on the face of Van Gogh’s mother.

The dark green background and the pale green portrait reminded me of Blake’s poem “The Nurse’s Song” from Songs of Experience:

When the voices of children are heard on the green, 

And whisperings are in the dale, 

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind, 

My face turns green and pale. 

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, 

And the dews of night arise, 

Your spring and your day are wasted in play, 

And your winter and night in disguise. 

Oh the levels of green! The green where the children play, the implied green of youthful inexperience, (light green–light in shade and weight) the pale green of the nurse’s face comes with a certain kind of remembering–a dawning sense of mortality and dread…and I think of Van Gogh telling Theo that he wanted to paint a portrait of his mother in harmony of color, as he saw her in his memory. What is the color of memory? Does it vary depending on the thing remembered? I used to imagine my mother’s past in black and white while the life she led with me unfolded in color.

I decided to see what other paintings were around. Manet’s Ragpicker is impressive dominates an entire room. His pants seem romanticized, (only one tear), but his hands tell the truth. The Ragpicker also avoids eye contact with the viewer.  He seems to peer down some unseen side street, as if assessing a promising, glittering heap of junk.

In her portrait, Madame Manet, the painter’s wife, looked serene, but distracted.

Matisse’s “Nude on a Sofa” possessed the unsettling stare of a murder victim posed as a an artist’s model. But I liked her mismatched nipples and that the hair on one armpit seemed bushy and full, while the other armpit was just growing in.

I also admired the pocket mirror-sized Goya portrait, and Zurbaran’s St. Francis, whose brown robe matched the skull precariously tipped beneath his praying hands. I even saw two paintings featuring female satyrs ( a first for me).

But no picture had the magnetic draw of the kind and glowing Mrs. Van Gogh.

The best plan is probably to find a few pictures (or sculptures or…) in each museum, each piece designed to elicit contemplation or agitation, reverie or possibility and go visit them depending on your mood. Plan a visit. Or show up unannounced. Pick a popular painting and eavesdrop on the conversation it inspires. Make a pilgrimage to the museum on an unlikely day, when the sun is shining and everyone else is playing Frisbee or going to the beach. Sit alone and look at the painting. When you get tired or restless, keep sitting. Push past boredom.  See if the painting dissolves or resolves into something else. Notice what the picture causes you to remember. See what it allows you to forget.

Portrait of the artis's mother

Portrait of the artist’s mother (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 164 12/6/13: Taking A Walk in Los Angeles

GreetingsFromLosAngelesNow that my shark class is winding down, now that we’ve discussed the threat of overfishing and the horrors of finning, now that we’ve explicated “The Shark” by Mary Oliver and written about how power pivots on the ability to speak, now that we’ve learned about the wondrous diversity of sharks, their hidden traditions (intrauterine cannibalism) and their supernatural senses, I’ve rounded out the semester with readings about the importance of awareness (David Foster Wallace’s brilliant Kenyon Commencement Address) and action (Derrick Jensen’s Loaded Words: Writing as a Combat Discipline).

I am hoping to plant seeds—something that might take root and grow beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Don’t forget about the natural world. Be present. Get out of yourself. Try to be of service.

I thought I had better follow my own advice and go walking in Los Angeles on an afternoon at the end of the year. The light looked almost stormy streaming from robust clouds, random in its distribution of illumination and shadow.  I decided to walk toward a less-traveled neighborhood, near the newly converted Kadampa Meditation Center where I went to meditate the other night, remembering once how I’d almost rented an apartment near there in an old Spanish building with a ship for a weathervane, hallways full of antiques, and, the landlord revealed with a degree of pride, a ghost.

It’s so interesting that the same street can live multiple lives in the same city—Palmerston, Alexandria, Kenmore—to walk these streets north of Franklin is a different world than their southern extremities. I paused at the Kadampa Center; the formerly Christian church where the burning thorn pierced heart in the stained glass window has been replaced with a lotus flower, and then headed north on Palmerston. I love to look at architecture in Los Angeles. I love the curving, quiet streets where houses can’t make up their minds, yet the incongruities are somehow awkwardly resolved—the Spanish roof sheltering a porch of Corinthian columns. The green shingled house with the curving storybook path. My head felt like a camera that pans, reveals. All I wanted was to walk deeper into a place I did not know, past rambling brick houses with dark Tudor windows whose solemnity is relieved by the reflection of manicured grass.

Climbing a hill, I noticed Christmas lights emitting a steady, secret glow from a blasé hedge while above, on an overhead branch, a Halloween skeleton floated in the breeze—clearly articulated “life-like” skull, skinny mummy arms, and a body that ended abruptly in streaming burlap rags. The arms were wide and fleshless palms open. I’d seen pictures of Jesus in that same attitude of supplication. This skeleton, streaming like a flag in the sudden breeze, naked skull limned with golden light, appeared to be preaching, perhaps to the rosebushes.

I love California, but my early Northeastern life has structured and nurtured my deepest responses to nature. I find myself always drawn to those houses shrouded in tall, green trees because they remind me of the places (once real now memory) that I am afraid to return to, fearing that great undertow of memory will sweep me out to sea. Today I found one such place. The green trees (tall, tall-evergreen and deciduous) seemed less brooding than expectant. When I peered over the curved iron gate, I noticed a half-hidden house. A modest pale green turret with narrow windows, felt monastic, regal and I flashed on the uneven shards of colored glass on the cover of the St. Patrick’s missalette I left on an empty pew a thousand Christmas Eves ago.

But I couldn’t feel sad. I had no need for remembering when everything felt so generous and alive, the trees rising up from the ground dotted with eyeholes, and the sudden blue and white of a house like a bright postcard from Santorini. I thought: Everything keeps changing shape—the streets curve, the houses assume their forms and postures, the tree roots declare themselves busting through the concrete. The memories of all the places that we can never return to, grow like living things in the body, their roofs push at the ribs, their fields unfold, erasing thought.

I kept waiting for the spell to break. Surely all would dissolve into quotidian reality as the light changed.  Yet even as I headed back toward Franklin, past all the apartments and vintage stores turned invisible from being endlessly seen, even as I cursed the errant plastic bag skittering across Vermont Avenue, there by the 7-11, in the rounded nest-shaped bush next to the bus stop, a dozen or more little brown and white birds popped out of the hollows between the branches, all chattering at once, all looking at me. Don’t just survive here, the birds told me sing, sing.