The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Women

Camille Armantrout was born in 1954 on the East Coast, first born and only girl followed by five little brothers, which is where she got her sense of humor. She began keeping journals and corresponding with pen pals in grade school and has traveled the world with her soul mate, Bob.

Like so many who live in Chatham County, N.C, she is passionate about local farming and food cultures, sustainability and building community. I’ve been a friend of Camille’s, for many years, and a fan of her blog: ‘Plastic Farm Animals’ that threads together community news, personal reflection and travel stories. She and Bob host an annual ‘Hoppin’ John’ potluck party on New Year’s Day. They are greats host and I look forward to this event every year. This year at the party, I held in my hands the recent fruit of Camille’s labor, a co-authored book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Camille and her co-author Stephanie De La Garza document the maladies, epiphanies and tragedies of their collective wisdom gleaned from traveling the world and writing to each other about their discoveries. They loved the challenges of living abroad and inspire readers to go on their own adventures. Although I knew Camille blogged, I had no idea that her passion for writing was deep in her bones. I had to invite her here to learn more.

I am delighted to welcome Camille Armantrout to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

 

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Tell us about your new book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Why did you want to write this book?

My year and a half in Africa was epic. When I returned to the U.S. everyone was eager to hear about the trip, but would quickly become confused when I tried to sum up my experiences. Inevitably, I would end the attempt with “I could write a book…” and so I did.

My co-author Stephanie and I had discussed writing a travel book a few times. While I was in Ghana, she was experiencing her own travel adventure in Central America, having sold her house, cars and nearly everything else to move abroad. We thought our stories would inspire others to follow their dreams.

Stephanie came up with the title and I liked the alliteration. She chose the alternative spelling of braud, a word Urban Dictionary defines as “Fearless female; an adventurous, daring or independent woman.”

How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

The writing bug bit me early on. My father was a writer and I began keeping a journal in grade school. I don’t think there’s been a day of my life when I didn’t write something. In the back of my mind, I always thought I would one day transition from writer to author, and now I’ve gone and done it.

What was your relationship with your co-author Stephanie before this book? What did you learn about each other in the process of writing Two Brauds Abroad?

Stephanie and I are longtime email buddies. We met in Nicaragua ten years ago when she came to stay at the lodge my husband, Bob and I were managing. We enjoyed each other’s company and have been corresponding ever since. Over the years, we have shared all aspects of our lives and know each other well.

Stephanie and Camille (right)

Stephanie and Camille (right)

Interestingly, we are two very different people. I’ve been married for twenty years. Stephanie is sixteen years my junior and still playing the dating game. I’m a vegetarian and Steph dislikes pretty much all vegetables, she’s more willing to take risks than I am, I’m more of a morning person than she is and she’s an only child while I come from a large family.

As we plunged into our project, we were happy to find that we have similar work ethics and that our skill sets dovetailed nicely. I submerged myself in editing as she launched a comprehensive marketing plan. Stephanie discovered that I’m a perfectionist and I found out she has a compulsive, “Let’s do!” streak.

The second half of the book is about how someone can transform his or her self into a world traveler. Where does this person start?

Planning begins with a financial safety net. Decide how big your cushion needs to be and either start saving or begin liquidating assets. Next, check out the possibilities via the Caretaker Gazette, Help Exchange, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) or similar resources. Pick a location and start reading up on the culture and climate.

It’s worth noting that our transformation tips are not limited to world travel. You can reinvent yourself right here at home with a career or other lifestyle change using the same tools we offer in part II of our book.

What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading right now?

I am reading George Monbiot’s Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells and have just finished Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.

 

Camille Armantrout has lived and worked all over the world. She is usually traveling with her co-conspirator and husband, Bob. Camille has worked in kitchens, on construction sites, driven taxi and groomed race track thoroughbreds. She bakes for fun, trains horses, and writes about the world as she sees it, here.

Check out Two Brauds Abroad on Amazon!

 

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Amanda Owen’s first book, The Power of Receiving offered a paradigm shift in how we typically approach and embrace the states of ‘giving and receiving’. She notes that historically, our society “champions the use of willpower and under-recognizes the value of receptivity.” Owen encouraged us to look at how our beliefs about the continuum of ‘giving and receiving’ and ‘active and receptive’ shape our lives.

In receptive states, we generally can pay more attention to “information from and about other people, information from the environment and information about our own feelings.” A close friend of mine and I (both overdriven ‘givers’) read this book together, discussed it and did the practices suggested. We experienced a remarkable shift in our capacity to receive,and our ability to acknowledge and express our preferences and desires. Owen’s philosophy of receiving was also helpful in interrupting my tendency to live in a constant state of ‘doing’. I don’t often write reviews of  books, but I felt moved to do so for The Power of Receiving.

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I am thrilled that Amanda’s new book, Born to Receive: 7 Powerful Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of the Universe brings her important message about receiving to women. This is a timely book that delivers real treasure. Amanda Owen is a consultant, coach, and motivational speaker. Her powerful “Receive and Manifest” seminars and workshops have transformed thousands of lives and have earned her a loyal worldwide fan base.

I’m delighted to welcome Amanda Owen to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Why did you write Born to Receive? What’s in store for readers?

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My first book The Power of Receiving gave an introduction to receiving and provided a foundation and basic tools for living a balanced life. In early 2012, I discovered I had much more to say about this topic—specifically to women.

Women pay attention and tend to other people’s needs in a way that makes them vulnerable to overextending their giving and subjugating their own needs and desires. I wanted to provide practical solutions and demonstrate how embracing their receptive power would give them more energy, reduce stress, and help them achieve greater reciprocity in their relationships and create more balance in their lives.

In Born to Receive I offer seven practical steps that women can easily integrate into their daily life and give numerous examples of women who have changed their lives for the better by using their receptive power.

You suggest that women should be critical of the idea that we “naturally” suffer from low self-esteem and look instead at several external influences. Can you say more about how women can disengage from ‘the cult of self-esteem’?

It makes sense that women feel it is natural to have low self-esteem. We are constantly told that we struggle with self-esteem issues and are bombarded with products that will help us.  (Is there a Dove Beauty Campaign for men?) It’s become a mantra that too many of us say over and over: I have low self-worth. I suffer from low self-esteem. It’s like we have all been drinking the same Kool-Aid.

In Born to Receive, I ask women to stop talking about their self-esteem and refuse to let their feelings about themselves be dictated by those who do not have their best interests.

You outline seven powerful steps that can enable women to use receptive power in their daily lives. In Step Three (Ask For Help If You Need it and Accept It When It’s Offered) you note that, “Even though our culture is infatuated with a person who does it all, carrying 100 percent of the load is not natural and is not the behavior of an empowered woman…If you are habitually giving more than 50 percent, you are doing too much.” Can you expand upon this for us and discuss why you think we should be striving for 50% versus 100%?

Filling our days with activities that our bodies cannot comfortably support is a kind of madness. But if we follow a cultural model that champions activity and self-sufficiency and undervalues receptivity and cooperation, we can’t help but harm ourselves. I call this “multitasking mayhem.”

Allocating 100% of our energy and efforts to trying to make something happen is not only unnatural, it is mentally exhausting, physically depleting, and emotionally draining. When we give as well as receive, we allow a metaphorical gate to swing both ways. Sometimes it opens away from us and sometimes toward us.

What did you learn about yourself as a writer while writing The Power of Receiving that helped while you were crafting this book?

Above all, writing The Power of Receiving gave me confidence. Once I wrote one book, I knew I could write another one. Also, working on my previous book gave me a template to follow for Born to Receive—not only for how to structure a book, but also how to structure my day.

What does your writing practice look like?

I write every day. My day starts out with catching up with the world through online news and emails over coffee and breakfast. Then I begin writing, which usually lasts until about 3 pm. My friends know not to call me during the day since I do not answer the phone when I am writing.

What’s your best writing tip?

Write every day. Write plenty of bad sentences so that you can get to the good ones. If I don’t have a terrible piece of writing in front of me after all of my efforts, I feel like I have not made any progress. I need something I can work with, fuss over, and shape. A flimsy idea can be nurtured into something substantial. A phrase can be fanned into a flame that produces a whole sentence. A poorly written paragraph can inform me of a direction that may yield gold.

To find out more about Amanda Owen and to purchase Born to Receive, visit her website.

 

We cannot write well by staying on the surface of our lives or by attempting to hide our true selves behind our words. We free the pen to dig deep whenever we pick it up. Peggy Tabor Millin

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What can women who wish to write discover about themselves if they enter into conversation with a nonlinear, archetypal feminine process? What is the wisdom and inner authority that awaits them in their own bodies, moving through perhaps limiting feelings of shame, blame and judgment? In the richly inspiring book Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, Peggy Tabor Millin argues that what awaits women, if they so choose to explore, is their deepest self from which springs their writing life. And, she asserts that excavating this self is more important than the outward goal of publishing. Drawing on her extensive experience as a writing teacher, practicing Buddhist and cartographer of women’s cycles of creativity, she argues that the real struggle that many women have with writing is not just about a lack of time, writing space or support. It is the struggle for authenticity. Women’s multiplicity of social roles and living in a world that often undervalues them add to the challenges of finding the courage not just to write, but to create a worthy self. In Women, Writing and Soul Making, Millin offers a fresh and inner directed path to the writing life through what she calls an ‘archetypal feminine approach’ to writing and self-making.

Millin shares insights of how to access the subterranean territory of the writing experience that has seldom been mined. Many writing books crowding the shelves today assert principles, programs, and protocols for becoming a bestselling author with a platform that will entice agents and publishers. We can characterize much of this work as outer directed, active, assertive and perhaps linearly driven. Readers, in this book, will not find tidy exercises and chatty language about how to pitch ideas to editors. Millin, however, offers women writers (and male writing instructors) another way to think about the writing life by first acknowledging that women writers struggle with claiming a voice. She names and explores internal and external barriers that stop women from writing and from taking themselves seriously as writers. She argues that women must make new meaning for themselves by paying attention to what innate wisdom residing in their bodies and buried in their psyches, they (and the world) may have devalued.

She successfully yokes together concepts about women’s spirituality, Jungian and archetypal analysis and embodied learning. Her book is part of a growing trend that employ a contemplative and body wisdom approach, gleaned from eastern traditions, as a foundation for a writing practice, including Gail Sher’s Writing the Fire (yoga and writing) and Larraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath (mindfulness and writing). Through vignettes, koans and stories Millin’s method is subtle and almost easy to overlook. The task is to move from our heads into our bodies, easier said than done. She reveals her technique of ‘Centered Writing Practice’ which includes two elements: “writing to neutral prompts and writing in community.” Neutral prompt are phrases, concrete nouns and active verbs that carry no obvious emotional connection for the writer. The writer follows where the language takes her. The second and important aspect of this practice is writing in community. Centered Writing Practice happens in a circle of women, regularly, and with focused attention. Each chapter begins with a piece that emerged from some of the free writes and ‘word circle’ exercises that Millin uses in groups. The reader is thus invited in to see how the book was constructed through many nonlinear techniques. The spiral graphic sprinkled throughout Women, Writing and Soul-Making remind us writing and coming into self has no final destination. Miller notes: “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. Practice—of sport, writing, art-making, meditation, music—has no goal but revelation.”

Along the way, we meet Lord Mother, Millin’s contribution to an archetypal support system rooted in women’s experiences with the Divine, mystical, cyclical and seasonal. Millin helps us to recognize that our judgment, shame and victimization can be acknowledged without being indulged in, constituting a resting place versus a stopping place. Readers will also enjoy getting to know the intriguing archetypal figures of ‘Lady Underground’ and ‘The Blood-Raw Savage’ who can also support in getting to know our bodies’ wisdom and unconscious desires.

Although shunning simple and formulaic steps toward writing, Millin does offer organizing principles for writing and exploring consciousness that include the Four Wisdoms: ‘The Wisdom of Not Knowing’, ‘The Wisdom of the Ecology of Body and Earth’, ‘The Wisdom of Fierce Compassion’ and ‘The Wisdom of Diversity’. These Wisdoms explore what she identifies as feminine processes of ‘relationship and responsiveness’, an awareness of interconnectedness and fierce compassion that links soul work to creative work. Through these wisdoms she tackles many ‘hotspots’ of women’s lives including how we grapple with power, vulnerability, and expectations in relationships. This is a chapter most readers will want to linger in.

I was predisposed to like this book as I am intensely curious about how women navigate a creative life given the obstacles borne out of the social tensions around caretaking, relational work and constructing a core self. Finding new metaphors of creativity that don’t pit women against codified ways of knowing the world, their work and families is of vital importance. In my teaching and coaching work, I’ve found similar patterns of challenges that women face, in pursuing a creative life that is aptly described by Millin. And, Millin does a good job of arguing for exploring and being open to a repository of suppressed ‘women’s wisdom’: “Tribal cultures that honored women’s rhythms understood women to hold the creative future of the culture-not only because they produced children, but they fathomed the sacred nature of the cycles of creation.” However, in several places, I was uneasy with some of Millin’s uncritical language and assumptions about women’s experiences (including “when women feel stress, they are biologically wired to seek solace with other women” or “the power women innately hold confounds thought”). As I read, I felt the tension between embracing and feeling good about ‘feminine’ patterns and my understanding that gender is also mutable, historically varied and socially constructed. There isn’t one universal women’s experience or even ‘female ways of knowing’. Each reader will have to navigate and make sense of this tension.

Toward the end of the book and again drawing on Buddhist thought Millin makes use of the four paradoxes writers face: ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Praise and Criticism’, ‘Fame and Disgrace’ and ‘Gain and Loss’. The dynamic of dualisms confound and often frustrate us yet form a way into understanding the writing life. I found myself lingering here, too.

Her book also addresses those writers who are transitioning from one type of writing that may be more analytical (i.e. technical writing, academic writing) to one that is symbolic and abstract (i.e. poetry). She wants a general respect for all writing. Despite the lack of specific exercises, Millin’s material will ignite an intuitive spark in each reader about how to proceed: some might journal more, some will try using ‘neutral prompts’ to begin a project, some might list the ways they experience societal femininity and how that is or isn’t congruent with their personal ways of knowing the creative cycles of the earth. Some will want to explore deeply the archetypal figures Millin presents. Some readers will be better able to recognize where some of their negative voices about writing came from (which are personal and which are cultural), some will feel relief to find that many women struggle with inner barriers that often go unrecognized; they might seek or start a writers’ group based on Millin’s thoughtful guidelines. According to Millin, if we get focused on our own excellence and joy in creating and living, this will support our inner most desires. I can see why this book was a Next Generation Indie Book Winner. It is so useful, innovative, playful and fresh that it is worth a place on every aspiring woman writer’s (and writing teacher’s) book shelf.

 

This book review first appeared in the December  2013 issue of Western North Carolina Woman


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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