THE BOOK: Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony through Journaling and Nature.
PUBLISHED IN: 2015.
THE AUTHOR: Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.
THE EDITORS: Midge Raymond and John Yunker
THE PUBLISHER: Ashland Creek Press
SUMMARY: Earth Joy Writing is a kind of Artist’s Way for the green generation. It is especially helpful for those who consider themselves professional writers, but it is easily accessible to anyone who wants to learn simple, easy ways to recover their sense of connection to the natural world and deepen their writing practice.
THE BACK STORY: I began writing the book while teaching courses in Ecofeminism and Ecopoetry at the University of South Carolina’s Green Quad Learning Center for Sustainable Futures. I found in both courses that taking the students outside – either to sit in the quad or to visit the university arboretum or city parks – was essential to their learning process.
There is so much in books, and we need philosophy and poetry and history to understand where we’ve come from and who we are – but we also need to let this understanding apply to us on a deeply personal level.
It’s one thing to read the poetry of the contemporary Native American poet, Joy Harjo, (who is the newly appointed Poet Laureate of the United States and is one of my favorite living poets), and it becomes a whole other thing when we walk along the Congaree River in Columbia, South Carolina, where I live – and see the plaques marking the history of Native Americans along the river.
Nature carries both individual memory and collective history, and Earth Joy Writing allows readers to connect with both. So I started writing the book for students and then realized we are all students when it comes to nature. And I’ve used the exercises myself to deepen my own creative writing.
WHY THIS TITLE?: As I write in the book, “Achieving, succeeding, and winning—in this world that we are Earth Joy Writing—will mean something very different than it has for most of us, for most of our lives. It will mean giving up old notions of doing and fighting and competing and striving and climbing. It will mean learning new ways of being in order to survive.”
There’s a kind of striving that our culture engages in that, I think, comes from a history of collective trauma in the United States. There is a phase after trauma called “mastery” or the “repetition compulsion” where the survivor repeats what has been done to her as a way of trying to gain control over it. You see this, for example, in survivors of sexual abuse and rape who become promiscuous as a way of trying to gain control over what happened to them. I witnessed it myself working with military families where violence becomes part of their post-combat family landscape. I think, as a nation, we are not really “over” our violent beginnings; we are still trying to master them by repeating the past.
Earth Joy Writing gives readers practical suggestions for living in a mindful way. The exercise after the passage I just quoted, for example, suggests that readers take one day to slow down. Eat breakfast leisurely. Do your work at a slower pace. It’s kind of like being a scientist of your own being. Observe and record the results.
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: We write to discover what we know. Scientists have discovered that journaling by hand creates the same kinds of brain waves as deep meditation. And the work of James Pennebaker shows the incredible healing power of writing for 20 minutes a few times a week—resulting in reductions in cortisol levels, reduced chronic pain and fewer symptoms from asthma and arthritis, for example. I’ve also been influenced by the work of Bessel van der Kolk, who brings the mind and body together in an understanding of healing from trauma. So I would say what Earth Joy Writing teaches is mindful survival.
Our bodies literally can’t survive without air, water, and the nutrients we get from what grows on the earth. And we know all this is now in danger from environmental destruction.
When people take Earth Joy Writing and their journal with them into a park – or simply look out their window – there is an acknowledgment that there is something more than just the human at work in our lives. Journaling can be more than recording your inner feelings. And writing can be more than responding to external events. When we get quiet, slow down, and be with the natural world – really listen – then we begin to have a conversation that teaches us about ourselves and our world in really profound ways.
REVIEW COMMENTS: “Drawing on the intuitive and integrative connection between writing and nature, Earth Joy Writing guides the writer into a deep relationship with the world and the words that surround her. Filled with respect for the shifting seasons of the earth and our creative lives, and rich with exercises and insights, this book is a gem for writers at any level.” –Laraine Herring, author of Writing Begins with the Breath
“This is more than a book about creative writing. It is a book that will help readers become more creative writers and thinkers through the connections they develop or re-establish between themselves, their family, and nature. With the right conditions and frame of mind, creativity can grow from not only our own experiences, current interactions with nature, but also through reflection and looking at the unknown.” –Serena M. Agusto-Cox, Savvy Verse & Wit
“The book is designed to activate the reader into regular journaling using prompts that take her into memory, into outdoor places, into the body, using exercises that encourage not just writing, but drawing, collage, photography, music, movement, and even eating. The graphic design supports the reader through the effective use of white space to make space for contemplation, to give the reader and nascent journaler time to begin, and to break up the many tasks the book offers.” –Anne Milne, University of Toronto Scarborough
“While we move through that process, what we are learning is how to use an extended metaphor to make sense of our lives and our feelings. We learn the benefit of research in the writing process, how we can extend what we sensed into what we know, how our engagement with the natural world can help us to co-create. This is powerful teaching in part because of its subtlety.” –Camille Yvette Welsch, Literary Mama
AUTHOR PROFILE: Cassie Premo Steele is the author of 16 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her poetry has been nominated 6 times for the Pushcart Prize, and her most recent book is The ReSisters, a novel with LGBT, #metoo and #resist themes that hit #1 on Amazon in the first month after its release. She has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies from Emory University in Atlanta and works as a writing coach with women from around the world.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Earth Joy Writing is ultimately a hopeful book. I believe that nature has something to teach us and that we can begin to learn the lessons. Then we take action. We commit to a practice. Apply discipline. I love that the word Discipline comes from the same root as Disciple. I consider myself a disciple of nature and all my writing comes from this deep faith and work.
There are also free audio meditations and video workshops at http://www.earthjoywriting.com
What Is Earth Joy Writing?
Earth Joy Writing is about finding joy when we align our creative practices with natural principles. It is about living in harmony with our deepest selves and the natural world. It is about committing to a mindfully creative life in collaboration with nature and, in the process, healing both ourselves and the earth.
We live in a world that is very out of balance. Wounded. Traumatized. In pain. Sick. Dying.
And we humans are also experiencing all of this.
Can this one little book—and you, with one small notebook and a pen—really make a difference?
Oh, yes. With a heart smiling wide, I say to you, “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
For the past twenty years, I have been writing poems and novels and nonfiction books and teaching within schools and communities about how our bodies and spirits are wounded, and how writing and creative practices in the natural world can help us heal from these traumatic histories.
As the daughter of a philosopher mother, I began my work, as many people do, in a place that felt like home. In my case, this was an academic setting. In my twenties, I joyfully completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature and women’s studies, balancing studying and teaching and researching while writing a few poems, and I thought this would be my path.
But eventually we all leave home. While I was teaching at the university level, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the competitive, hierarchical, rational, and linear
thinking of that world. I began to spend more time writing in my journal. More time in nature.
One day, while walking in the woods behind our house, I was struggling through the briars and brambles and thinking how much easier it would be if I had a path. And then, right there on the ground in front of me, was a beautiful red-tailed hawk feather.
There was my path.
Make your own path. Look down. Then look up. Learn to soar. See with clear vision.
And so I dedicated myself fully to my path as a writer and writing coach. A decade ago, I opened my own office in a historic home that had been converted to an office building in my southern city’s downtown. I held a free informational seminar for teachers and therapists in the area to share with them what I would be doing.
The seminar was well attended. I described my process to them, as I will do for you, and near the end of the meeting, one of the therapists gestured to me that he had a question.
“Yes?” I said.
“Earlier,” he said, “you described that during the ‘lesson,’ as you call it, there comes a point when you give an assignment to the client to write something, and then while the client writes, you write as well. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well.” He hesitated. “Doesn’t that mean you have to be … emotionally involved during the lesson?”
I smiled. “Yes,” I said.
Earth Joy Writing is about being emotionally involved. It is about co-creating in a shared emotional space with different parts of yourself, and with different people. And it is about co-creating in a shared environmental space with different parts of the natural world.
We are living at a crucial time. The planet, as even major news networks will tell you, is in peril. Scientists have affirmed what we fear: Many species are dying. Ecosystems are disappearing. Life as we know it on this planet may not have long to live.
We have a choice: We can choose to be emotionally involved, or we can numb our feelings, shut down, and distract ourselves with addictions, violence, and mindless repetitive patterns that pretend to provide an escape.
Earth Joy Writing will guide you, gently, toward the choice of connection, creativity, healing, and cooperation—toward collaboration, community, and care.
Many people want to live creative and balanced lives. Many people want to heal themselves and the earth. But they stop there, at the wanting.
Earth Joy Writing will take you beyond wanting into doing.
Studies have shown that it takes ten years of practice to become an expert or a renowned artist in a field. Why ten years? Because this is the length of time it takes for someone to practice something enough to become proficient, gifted, and masterful.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice!
How do we learn to align our human creative practices with natural principles?
Practice, practice, practice!
To this end, Earth Joy Writing is divided into sections by the seasons and by the months of the year. In this way, you can work in tandem with the cycles of the seasons of our lives and the seasons of the earth. Also, each month of the book provides several suggestions for creative action—indoor exercises, writing prompts, and outdoor activities—that will allow you to feel and experience and understand the lessons of that month for yourself.
In the beginning, we will begin each month by practicing Earth Joy Writing, and then at the end of the month we will reflect back upon what we learned to deepen our understanding through an examination of the natural principles at work in each month and each season. As the cycle of the seasons turns, however, the practices and principles will become more integrated so that the practice reflects upon the principle, and understanding the principle becomes the practice.
Here is the logic behind this: Much of Western philosophy derives from a principle-based foundation, which means that we start with a concept such as “freedom” or “health” or “equality,” and we attempt to apply this principle universally across vastly different situations and circumstances.
But in many cases, this fails—not because there is something wrong with the principles but because they are applied regardless of the context, the society, and the ecosystem in which humans and the natural world live.
In other words, Earth Joy Writing means aligning our practices and principles in ways that grow organically from the ground where we live.
So in Earth Joy Writing, we will begin with you—with you wherever you are, in whatever season it is, in whatever land you live upon, and within whatever circumstances you live. If you live in the southern hemisphere, for example, and it’s winter, you may want to turn to the lessons in the winter section of the book even though your calendar month is July or August.
From the context of this grounding, you will begin to practice Earth Joy Writing in your own way, using your own hands, writing your own words, using your own voice and body and stories. And in this grounded way, the natural world will join you and begin to teach you, and talk to you, and share with you how we can indeed heal ourselves and the earth as together we learn to live in creative, balanced, and joyful ways.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Ashland Creek Press https://www.ashlandcreekpress.com/books/earthjoywriting.html
Apple iBookstore https://books.apple.com/us/book/earth-joy-writing/id966710074
Barnes & Noble
$16.95 (on sale from the publisher) or $18.50 at other retail outlets
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