Thursday, April 10, 2014

Write the Stories of Your Life!

To celebrate the launch of my newest book, here's an excerpt, from From Memory to Memoir: Writing the Stories of Your Life...

Your Story, Your Life

What you have lived is unique. What you have learned through your years of living is beyond price. And the value of all you share through your words, and of all the ways you awaken and grow through your words, is incalculable. 
"You are a storyteller — not because you are unusual (though your experiences may well be), but because we are all storytellers. We each carry an infinite potential for self-expression-through-story that, if we open to it, can reshape our lives and the lives of others in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

"In a sense, we are also all memoirists. From the moment the first caveman returned from a day’s hunting and grunted his experiences to his mates over the cooking fire, we have been not only telling stories, but telling our story. From the moment of our first newborn gurgle, we have been communicating something of our brief life. From the moment the first diary entry reflected back on days, months or years past, we have been unconsciously crafting memoir.

"Yet writing a memoir involves more than reciting dates, facts and what-happened-next’s. A memoir is an intimate journey into what underlies those dates, facts and occurrences.

"A memoir is also not autobiography. Autobiographies are vast and encyclopedic. Even should it span your life from conception until last week, a memoir is both more subjective and less comprehensive than any autobiography. Like an Impressionist painting, it includes more shade and texture than detail, more personality than panorama.

"Nor is a memoir simply a published journal. While it may draw on your journals and may even quote from them, a memoir is more focused and less self-indulgent. It’s a story built, however unconsciously, around a theme. It’s a story that transforms the personal into the universal. It’s a recounting of your experiences that transcends your experiences. It’s a story designed to be shared.

"Perhaps you have come to this book willingly — in order to leave a legacy for your children or grandchildren. Perhaps you hope to communicate your story to a larger audience — to strangers, as well as to family and friends. Or perhaps you come to this memoir-writing journey, as I did to mine, reluctantly, doubtfully, skeptically. Perhaps you don’t believe you have stories worth sharing, stories that others would want to read, stories with the potential to inspire. Of course you do. We all do.

"Here’s the thing: What you have lived is unique. What you have learned through your years of living is beyond price. And the value of all you share through your words, and of all the ways you awaken and grow through your words, is incalculable.

"It’s true for you. It’s true for me. It’s true for everyone.

"It doesn’t matter whether you are eager or resistant, overflowing with anecdotes or unsure where to find yours. Whoever you are, whatever your experiences, whatever your perceived writing ability, From Memory to Memoir will connect you with the stories you remember and, perhaps even more important, with the stories you have forgotten...with the stories you are keen to tell and, perhaps even more powerfully, with the stories you are reluctant to reveal. It will serve up the inspiration guaranteed to get you writing and keep you writing, the tools and techniques guaranteed to help you craft a rich, compelling narrative, and the support guaranteed to sustain you from the initial word of your book’s first draft to the final word of its ultimate draft.

"That’s why you are here. That’s why I am here.

"So what are you waiting for? Turn the page and join me on this adventure of a lifetime...this journey into the experience of your own creativity as, together, we write the stories of your life."

Get your copy of From Memory to Memoir today --
 on most Amazon sites and in Kindle, iBook, Kobo and Nook stores worldwide

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Twenty Years After...

When the first words of a story I knew nothing about pushed themselves out of me on March 28, 1994, I couldn't know that those handwritten scratchings on a yellow notepad would birth not only my first book, The MoonQuest, but a writing career I couldn't then begin to imagine. I couldn't imagine it because although I had been teaching writing for nearly two years, I still hadn't moved fully past the creative blocks and denials that I had lived with for as far back as I could remember.

In my school years, I actively avoided all courses or activities that involved art, writing or any other creative pursuit. As the gawky bespectacled kid who was always chosen last for school or summer camp teams, I couldn't replace them with sports or athletics. Instead, I turned inward and, following my mother's example, read voraciously. In school, I focused my course selection on subjects like math that offered only one right answer. That way, I minimized the dangers of not only being wrong but of being judged harshly for having been wrong. 

But my tricksterish Muse always had other plans for me. Starting in my final years of high school, when I was somehow pushed into taking on responsibility for the publicity for two musical theater productions (and had, of course, to write press releases and other promotional material) and carrying on through my first two post-college jobs (in public relations), I was slowly, subtly and unconsciously transformed into the writer I never thought I wanted to be. When I quit that second job after five years, it was to freelance full-time as a self-taught writer and editor. Still, it would take another dozen years and the birth of The MoonQuest before I was able to move from a teller of others’ stories as a newspaper, magazine, government and corporate writer to a teller of my own stories, as a novelist.

Today, as I reflect back on that March evening two decades ago and on what, for me, remains one of the most transformative moments of my life, I am astonished by all that my Muse has managed to push through me and by all that I have managed to surrender to.

Over the past 20 years, I have
I am not only astonished, I am also profoundly grateful -- to all those who contributed to my creative awakening and to the many of you who have supported me in so many ways since. I am grateful as well for the three decades of fear-, doubt- and judgment-filled creative drought that preceded The MoonQuest. As painful and challenging as those blocks and years were, they would ultimately fuel all the creative work that has followed: all my writing as well as all my teaching. They would fuel all my life choices too.

You see, there is no way I can separate my creative life from the rest of my life, which is why my creative and spiritual awakenings occurred simultaneously and why the 13 “rules” for writing that I include in my books for writers are almost identical to the 13 “rules” for living that I have written about in Writer's Block Unblocked and elsewhere. The first rule in both cases is that there are no rules…not in creativity and not in life. It's that "rule," along with my certainty that my stories are smarter than I am, that has made all those creative projects possible.

And so when the 28th rolls around in a few days, I'll be raising a glass to toast The MoonQuest and to everyone and everything in my life that made it possible. It's been quite a journey!

To honor The MoonQuest's 20th birthday this week, here is the story of its birth, excerpted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir....

Birth of a Book
 An excerpt from 
Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

Much of my journaling over the years has been a stream-of-consciousness free-flow, similar to the Muse Stream technique I encourage in The Voice of the Muse and in my writing workshops. Rather than a diary-like reflection on the day’s events, it has been a way to get past the limiting thoughts of my mind and enter into that inner place of infinite wisdom where both powerful stories and unexpected insights arise. One of those insights showed up in my journal within days of my return from Nova Nada as I found myself writing, “It’s time to stop journaling.”

Time to stop journaling?

My journal had been my best and only friend through my first two months in Nova Scotia. The thought of letting it go terrified me. I may not have been using the word “surrender” yet, but I was committed to the concept. I would do my best to follow my highest inspiration, however inscrutable.

That day, I set my journal aside. I would record no emotions, experiences, dreams or meditations. Nor would I seek guidance from the blank page. Instead, bundled up against the wintry bluster off Pubnico Harbour, I walked and walked and walked. When I wasn’t walking, I curled up in a chair and read or meditated. I was bored and, with no writing outlet, tense.

Nine months earlier, my moving boxes still stacked against the walls of my Rowland Street flat, I had hosted a writing workshop in my living room. Present were the six PC&W students who had asked to continue with me in a series of private classes. That morning, I had devised an exercise based on Courtney Davis’s Celtic Tarot. The deck had so seduced me a few days earlier in Toronto’s Omega Centre bookstore that I couldn’t not buy it, even as I failed to understand the impulse. Now, I did. I would have each student draw, closed-eyed, one of the major arcana cards. Then with their eyes open to the chosen card, I would lead them through a guided visualization into writing.

I rarely write during a workshop that I’m facilitating. Instead, I watch the participants, hold space for them and remain available to them. This March 28 class would be different. Once the six women were engrossed in their writing, some inner imperative insisted that I also pick a card. I reached into the deck and pulled The Chariot. Without full awareness of what I was doing, I then picked up my pen, pulled my yellow-paged notepad toward me and began to write. What emerged, after a rambling preamble, was the tale of an odd-looking man in an odd-looking coach. Pulling the coach were horses as oddly colored as those on the Tarot card. That scene would become the opening of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about.

Next morning, I picked up the story where I had left off and, most mornings for the next few months, I continued writing. It was a challenge to my controlling self, who bridled at the journey into the unknown that each word represented. So stressful was the process that after a few days I forced myself to write in bed before getting up. I figured that if writing was the first thing I did, I wouldn’t spend the rest of my day trying to avoid it. I also wrote longhand. It wasn’t that I believed handwriting to be superior. Rather, years of freelance writing — crafting other people’s stories to other people’s deadlines — had forged an uneasy association with desks and keyboards. It was easier for me to be creative as far as possible from my computer. My penmanship being as poor as it was, though, I resolved to type up each day’s output as I went along.

By the time I left for my exploratory trip to Nova Scotia, I had written a hundred pages of this still-untitled fantasy tale. When I returned to Toronto two weeks later, my focus had shifted from the story I was writing to the story I was living and to the upheaval being stirred up by my accelerating cross-country move.

It was now mid-December. I had not opened my journal for a week and, although I went to bed earlier and earlier, my days felt endlessly long. One afternoon after I returned from my walk, I had a sudden urge to dig out my fantasy manuscript, buried as deeply in a box as it had been from my thoughts. I dusted it off and placed it on a corner of my kitchen table. I didn’t dare open it. It sat next to me through a dinner, a breakfast and a lunch. It sat there, both seductively and accusingly, daring me to pick it up and read it. A dozen times through those twenty-four hours, I reached for the stack of pages then pulled my hand back. I was afraid to touch it, afraid that the manuscript wasn’t any good, afraid that I had outgrown it and would have to abandon it.

After lunch that second day, I gingerly carried it into the living room. Although I was certain it would be unreadable, I set a pen and notepad next to me...just in case it wasn’t. Two hours later, barely aware of what I was doing, I picked up pad and pen and began to write, continuing as effortlessly as though I had stopped for five minutes not five months. What I realized as I dove back into the story was that I hadn’t outgrown it. Rather, it had been so far ahead of me that I had needed those five months of life experience in order to be able to catch up with it and carry on. Three months and three hundred additional pages later, the first draft was finished — a year to the day after the Toronto class that had birthed it. And it finally had a title: The MoonQuest.

Excerpt from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir -- © 2013, 2014 Mark David Gerson

Acts of Surrender and all my books are now available in paperback on most Amazon sites and as ebooks in Kindle, iBook, Kobo and Nook stores worldwide. 
Get your copies today!

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Become Part of My Online Life!

You have probably noticed that I am not posting to this blog as often as I once did. That's because for me, as for many, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have made it easier to connect with online friends with even more immediacy than a blog can.

And while I will continue to post here, I encourage you to link up with me elsewhere too -- not only because it will be easier for you to keep up with me. It will also be easier, in some instances, for me to keep up with you!

You'll find me on these networks...
Facebook (see the end of this post for ways to connect with me also via my various Facebook fan pages)
Google Plus
Stage 32

You can also find and follow me via these Facebook fan pages...

As well, you'll find me hanging around on Pinterest, Fine Art America and Twenty20.

I look forward to "seeing" you out there!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Watching My Life Flash Before My Eyes

Unlike with The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, I didn't cry when I held my first printed copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir on Thursday. But I was emotional, even if I wasn't at first sure why. Then, this insightful comment from a wise friend revealed what I had failed to see on my own. "I just realized," he said, "how much of your work hasn't yet made it the tangible or physical plane."

It's true: Before Thursday, only two of my seven books had found their way into paperback and none more recently than five years ago with the publication of The Voice of the Muse. Holding the print edition of Acts of Surrender was powerful evidence for me of a revolutionary shift into the physical from what had previously been strictly etheric in my life. No wonder I was emotional!

The journey to that shift began a few weeks ago when I felt a sudden, urgent and incompressible imperative to get my remaining five ebook-only editions into printalong with an updated version of The MoonQuest. Through that process, work that existed only electronically has started to become manifest in my physical world -- and with mind-spinning speed: At this rate, all my ebooks will boast paperback editions by the end of January.

I'd like to think that the "manifestation exercise" I'm experiencing right now with my books is a staging ground for what's waiting for me in 2014. I'd like to think that it's a sort of dress rehearsal...that with 2014, many of my long-held dreams will finally begin to take physical form.

It is said that just before we die, our lives flash before our eyes. We can also experience some version of that "replay" when we are about to die into a new phase of our lives. Is that what's happening to me on the cusp of a new year, as my current republishing venture forces me to relive many of my lives by rereading all my books?

As a memoir, Acts of Surrender is an obvious blast from my various pasts. But my Q'ntana fantasy trilogy, two writing books and Book of Messages are just as autobiographical, if not quite so obviously. To my surprise, they remain as personally relevant to me as I revisit them today as they were when I originally wrote them. That includes The MoonQuest, which is four months to the day away from celebrating the 20th anniversary of its (conscious) conception.

Of course, I can't know what 2014 will bring. So, for now, even as I ponder the metaphorical meaning of this unexpected publishing enterprise, I continue to surrender to it by rereading all my work and by making minor content tweaks and creating new covers for the new editions.

The first fruits of this flurry of publishing activity showed up on Thursday with the new paperback edition of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir -- available right now by clicking on this link and coming to Amazon stores worldwide by the end of next week (a great portal into the new year for me!). Writer's Block Unblocked will follow soon after, with all three Q'ntana books and The Book of Messages following soon after that. (All my titles, of course, continue to be available as ebooks in the Kindle, Nook, iBook and Kobo stores.)

Meantime, I can't get this quote from Acts of Surrender out of my head -- and not just because I read and reread it multiple times over the past few weeks...

"My life, as you will discover, has been rocky, on-the-edge and unconventional. It has been scary, disrupted and a distant remove from what most people still cling to as 'security.' 

"It has also been creative, exhilarating, passion-filled, vibrant, exciting, adventurous and enriching. It has pushed me beyond the boundaries of what I believe and what I believe I want, and it has propelled me beyond the frontiers of the conventionally possible. 

"In every moment, it steers me on a course that I could never consciously chart for myself. In every breath, it reminds me that the story knows best -- the story I'm living as much as the story I'm writing."

Yes, the story knows best. All I can do, in this and every moment -- to the best of my imperfect ability -- is to trust that.

• Get  the paperback edition of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir today at Get the ebook edition in the Kindle, iBook, Nook and Kobo stores. You can also check your local Amazon store late next week for the book, and keep checking it through January for paperback editions of all my books.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

"The Incurable Disease of Writing"

"Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing, and it becomes chronic in their sick minds." 
~ Juvenal

This is a story about how I attempted to "cure" myself from the "incurable disease of writing"...and failed.

If you follow this blog or my social-media posts, you will know that I spent the early part of the fall writing stage-musical adaptations of my three Q'ntana Trilogy stories. My plan had been to write at least two drafts of each script before tackling the next, with a suitable break between stories. What I felt called to do instead was to work straight through all three first drafts, back-to-back-to-back, with only a day off between The MoonQuest and The StarQuest and another one between The StarQuest and The SunQuest.

Unlike in my early years as a freelance journalist where my writing was skilled and craftsmanlike but written from the surface, my current creations rise up from profound, gut-wrenching inner places that challenge me as little else in my life ever has. In metaphysical terms, they are "energy activations" that force me to face my deepest fears and impel me to trust more fully and surrender more completely than I sometimes believe to be possible.

All my work now comes from that place -- fiction, memoir and books on writing alike. Yet nothing has ever activated me more intensely than The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest. And no writing experience has ever been more intense than working nonstop through all three stories, something I had never done before launching into my Q'ntana Trilogy Stage Musical Marathon.

When I finished first drafts of the three scripts a few weeks ago, I swore I would never write again. I wasn't kidding. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I was depressed. And, in moments, I was despairing. I was also broke. And I couldn't help but question the purpose of an enterprise that had left me so depleted in so many ways.

Days passed and I grew no less adamant. I would hang up my quill and keyboard and try my hand at something different, even though I couldn't imagine what that might be. As more days passed, I moved from hopeless to helpless to anger to resignation, traveling my own version of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grieving.

Then two things happened, almost simultaneously.

The first occurred as I was editing an interview I had done in August with mystery writer Ellen Hart for my "One-on-One Conversations with Creatives" series. As Ellen and I talked about her work, her characters and her craft, I began to feel myself pulled back into the writer's identity I had so recently pushed away.

A few hours later, a favorite story about Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle popped into my head and wouldn't leave. The story, which I recount in Writer's Block Unblocked: 7 Surefire Ways to Free Up Your Writing and Creative Flow, talks about how the already-published L'Engle nearly quit writing after receiving repeated Wrinkle in Time rejections (including one from her then-publisher).

She tried to quit...but found that she couldn't. Here's the story, excerpted from Writer's Block Unblocked:

Toward the end of that two-year period [of rejections], L'Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up -- on A Wrinkle in Time and on writing. ... 
[Her] decision to throw in the towel was short-lived. Or, perhaps, a determined Muse caught L'Engle's towel and tossed it back at her: On her way downstairs to the kitchen, L'Engle had an epiphany -- an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, she was back at her typewriter.
"That night," as she explained 30 years later in a PBS documentary, "I wrote in my journal, 'I'm a writer. That's who I am. That's what I am. That's what I have to do -- even if I'm never, ever published again.' And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. ... It's easy to say I'm a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it.”

L'Engle's words haunted me for days.  

I'm a writer. 
That's who I am. 
That's what I am. 
That's what I have to do. 

Wide awake or drifting off to sleep, reading a book or watching a movie, out for a walk or out in the car: No matter where I was or what I was doing, those four short sentences played over and over in my head. I couldn't escape them.

I'm a writer. 
That's who I am. 
That's what I am. 
That's what I have to do. 

In Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, I share stories of how I resisted becoming a writer (in school, I hated writing and everything creative) and of how, once I finally surrendered to it, my writerly identity never completely left me. This time, for the first time, I willfully turned my back on it and said, "No more!"

In the end, though, like Madeleine L'Engle, I couldn't do it.

There's a scene in The SunQuest, The Q'ntana Trilogy's final book, where the main character tries to shrug off his destiny.

"That is your path," Yzythq'a insisted. "That is your destiny."
"You speak as though you believe you have a choice."
"Of course I have a choice," I countered with more certainty than I felt.
"You made your choice already," he said. “The moment you chose to return to Q’ntana, you made this choice, too."

How could I have thought my path would differ from Ben's when everything I write, however fantastical, is also autobiographical? In this world filled with an infinity of choices, I have no choice. As I write in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (and encourage others to read aloud for themselves), 

I am a writer.
I am a writer.
I am a writer.

Only in the past few days, have I finally surrendered again to something that is far from a disease. It is a way of being, a way of breathing, a way of moving through the world, a second skin...possibly even a first skin. I know that now, not from the intellectual place I have stated my surrender in the past, but from that same deep inner place my writing comes from. I know that, too, because it's in writing this piece that I feel it more deeply than I ever have before.

I am a writer. And, yes, it's incurable. 

What's your relationship with your writing? Has it changed over time? How? 

Remember that whether you're published or not, if the Muse calls and you're writing, you are a writer. Do you need some help believing that? Watch the video meditation, "You Are A Writer." Are you feeling judgmental about your writing? Watch the video meditation, "Let Judgment Go." The audio for both was drawn from my recording The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers

Find all the books mentioned in this post in the Kindle, Nook, iBook and Kobo stores, readable on your e-reader, tablet, computer and smartphone:
• The Q'ntana Trilogy (The MoonQuest, The StarQuest, The SunQuest; The MoonQuest is also available in paperback at
• Writer's Block Unblocked: 7 Surefire Ways to Free Up Your Writing and Creative Flow
• The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (also available in paperback at
• Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

Get The Voice of the Muse Companion on CD at
or as an MP3 download from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play or CD Baby

• • •

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

One-on-One with Mark David Gerson: Inspiring & Entertaining Conversations with Top Creatives

Earlier this year I was privileged to interview six remarkable individuals for a series of conversations I've titled One-on-One with Mark David Gerson. The result is this series of videos, each of which is sure to entertain, inspire and inform -- whether you are a writer or a reader or are just curious about how the creative mind works.

If a particular video won't play inline, click on its mini-headline to be taken to its YouTube page. You'll also find many more videos -- all equally inspiring -- on my YouTube channel at

Many in the film world know Michael Wiese as founder of Michael Wiese Productions, publisher of more English-language books on film than anyone else in the world. But Wiese is also a modern-day shaman who shares a lifetime of spiritual journeying in a compelling new memoir, Onward & Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life, a book studded with insights...and with such celebrities as Shirley MacLaine, Buckminster Fuller and Salvador Dali. In this video, Michael offers insights about memoir-writing, filmmaking and the creative process, and speaks frankly about  his latest journey, with Parkinson's Disease.

Susan Heim has put together 10 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her latest is Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers, and in this entertaining and inspiring conversation, Susan shares a few of the Chicken Soup stories that inspired her as a writer, reveals some of her own writerly quirks, wonders whether she carries vampire blood, confesses her resistance to novel-writing and offers some powerful inspiration of her own.

Sally Morgan insists that anyone can speak in passionate, empowered ways that engage, engross, captivate and convince. In this One-on-One interview she offers simple tools, tips and exercises to strengthen your voice, enhance your creativity and improve your life...whatever your profession, interests or perceived abilities.

The Secret's Bob Doyle

If you know Bob Doyle only from his appearance in the Law of Attraction book and film The Secret, then you know only one side of this multifaceted  and multitalented man. Beyond the Bob Doyle you think you know is Bob Doyle the musician, the magician, the author and the photographer. What links these seemingly unrelated pursuits? Passion: "I promised myself that I would never again do anything for a living that I didn't absolutely love." In this conversation, Bob talks about the passions that drive his life.

From the moment J.A. Jance discovered the Wizard of Oz books in second grade, she wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, the journey was neither easy nor direct. Discouraged because of her gender and ridiculed by an alcoholic first husband, Jance would be 38 before she began writing. Today, 50+ books later, Jance is a New York Times bestseller and one of the country's top mystery writers. In this conversation,  J.A. Jance talks about her life and her newest books: Second Watch, her 21st J.P. Beaumont mystery, and After the Fall, an autobiographical volume of poetry.

Ellen Hart has been entertaining us with her Jane Lawless mystery series for more than two decades. In this interview, Hart entertains us further as she shares what it means to her to be a storyteller, talks about the challenges of writing fiction that features a lesbian protagonist, tells us why she thinks the mystery genre is so popular, unveils her process (she doesn't outline), reveals her writing-time quirks (incense and cold coffee) and explains why, unlike one of her protagonists, her lipstick does not match the color of her car.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Father's Day: An Experience of Reconciliation and Love

Few of the stories I share about my father in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir are flattering. Physically and emotionally absent in my early childhood and dead before my 14th birthday, Sydney Gerson was not the kind of parental figure one thinks of as, well, much of a parental figure. 

On top of that, it turns out that he was probably not my natural father, something I learned long after all the principles in that drama -- him, my mother and my natural father -- had passed away. 

And yet I carry his name, and of the three fathers I have experienced in my life, he is the only one I ever think of as "Daddy." 

So today, on what would have been his 101st birthday, I share this story, a story of love and reconciliation, excerpted from an Acts of Surrender chapter titled "Channel Surfing." It takes place in 1997, while I was on a three-month full-time road odyssey...

"Inspired by my experience at Circling Hawks in Burke's Falls, one of the first things I now always did when arriving in a new town was to flip through the local Yellow Pages in search of health food stores, bookstores, and metaphysical shops and services. It proved an often-successful way for me to connect with like-spirited people on this open-ended road trip. That's how I had found Deep Lake Rocks in Bemidji, the bookstore in Dickinson and Missoula's EarthSpirit Books, where I had been directed to Reiki master Vish. The Yellow Pages was also how I found downtown Boise’s metaphysical emporium, which I drove out to the following morning on what I thought was my way out of town.

"When I walked into the bright, spacious store, a voice greeted me from on high -- not the disembodied spirit I had channeled the previous night during my first-ever channeling experience, but Bodie Dugger, a slim young man with tousled blond hair and a face in that unclassifiable place between chiseled and cherubic. He was perched atop a tall stepladder rearranging merchandise.

"'Where are you from?' he asked a few preliminaries later.

"'Toronto,' I replied.

"He laughed. 'No. What planet or star system? I'm from Arcturus.'

"Not a single customer wandered in during the hour-plus of our conversation, freeing us to chat nonstop about all things metaphysical. By the time I left, I knew I would stay the week so I could attend Bodie's full-moon gathering in seven days

"That afternoon, my cocker spaniel and I checked into the Shilo Inn, with a room right on the Boise River. That evening, I changed into my bathing suit and settled into the white-tiled steam room that's a fixture in many of the chain’s properties. I had no plans, other than to shut my eyes and relax into the steam. But after a few minutes, I felt another presence in the room. I opened my eyes and peered through the clouds of steam. I saw no one.


"No answer.

"I closed my eyes again. Immediately, I sensed a white-robed man staring at me from across the room. He was tall, dark-haired, with a trim beard and mustache and a muscular build. A gold coronet rested on his head.

"'Who are you?' I asked silently.

"'My name is Arctur,' I sensed rather than heard.

"Right, I thought dismissively. My mind is still focused on Bodie and his Arcturian stories. It’s playing tricks on me.

"'This is no trick. I am Arctur,' he repeated.

"Once again, despite myself, I was channeling. I don’t know how long we conversed. Time had no meaning among the mystical swirls of steam.

'If Bodie's from Arcturus,' I challenged, 'where am I from?"

"Not that it matters,' he replied, “'but you're from Sirius....and stop being so serious.'

"I was too serious, too much of the time.

"'There is someone here who wants to speak with you,' Arctur said a few moments later.

"I waited.

"'Because this is so close to the anniversary of your father's death...' Suddenly I sensed my father's presence, Sydney's presence. My heart started to race.

"I'm sorry I couldn’t be the father you wanted me to be,' my father said. 'I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in all the ways you deserved.'

"I began to sob.

"'But I loved you and I still love you,' he continued. 'And I'm so proud of what you're doing and what you're becoming. I couldn't be a role model for you, but you're now a role model for me. I'm watching you. I'm with you. I'm learning from you. Thank you.'

"Moments later, I sensed that Sydney and Arctur had left. I was alone, still crying. I opened my eyes. The steam room was empty. I wiped my face, collected myself and returned to my room.

"How close to the anniversary is it? I fired up my laptop and opened my file of significant dates.

"As close as it could be. My father had died 29 years earlier -- on that day."

• An excerpt from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir (c) 2012 Mark David Gerson

Read more about my three fathers, and much more, in Acts of Surrender, available right now from the Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBook stores and readable on your e-reader, tablet, computer and smartphone

• Photos (long before I was born) -- Top: My parents, probably around 1940 or 1941. Bottom: A family gathering in the later 1940s. 

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Voice of the Muse: A Reader's Journey

Rather than offering a traditional ranking and critique, reviewers at The Uncustomary Book Review chronicle their experiences and relationship with the books they write up.

Kat Kiddles's review of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, which I reprint here from a few years back, offers a too-rare window on the journey you travel, as the book's reader. If you've already made that sojourn, you'll undoubtedly recognize some of Kat's experiences in your own. If you haven't, she offers a movingly personal up-close view of what you might expect.

• Unlike when this review first appeared The Voice of the Muse is now available in ebook form as well as paperback. Get the ebook in the Kindle, Nook, Kobo or iBook/iTunes store; the paperback is at The Voice of the Muse Companion recording of guided meditations is sold on CD at and as an MP3 download from iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby and Google Play.

The Voice of the Muse

Review by Kat Kiddles

Reprinted from The Uncustomary Book Review ~ May 29, 2011
Full Title: The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
Author: Mark David Gerson
Format: Paperback and ebook
Number of Pages: 248
How long it took me to read: 1 year, 2 weeks, 3 days
Where I got this book: A heavily hinted at Christmas gift
Audio Excerpt: Guided Meditation #10: You Are a Writer

Like a Moth to a Flame
I’m not really sure why I was drawn to this book. I remember watching an interview with the author on a webcast. I think it was during a stage in my development as a writer when I was just warming my mitts to the idea of working with a muse. The creative process was still foreign and uncomfortable; holding my pen brought back ridiculous memories of grade school when we used sausage-sized pencils to learn how to print and the idea of calling myself a writer made me want to cower behind desperate attempts at topic changes so that people would get back to talking about themselves. (Not quite sure how that differs from today, but that’s too large a can of worms to open this late in the evening.)

Favorite Five Quotes
Whittling 13 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “The pain is in the resistance.” (p.113)

4. “You ask why you fear the blank page even as you know that the act of writing will make you feel better. It’s simple: The fear of the void far outweighs any perceived benefit that might arise from allowing it to be filled.” (p.112)

3. “Your imagination is limited by what you think you know. When you let go of that, when you leap off the bridge or cliff with nothing but trust, that’s when you fly.” (p.233)

2. “The fiercest ridicule and loudest, cruelest judgment will come from those who are touched most deeply by your words…Your critics are touched at a place deeper than they feel comfortable going, so their reaction and response is one of cruelty.” (p.69)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “Writers often have the cleanest windows, floors, fridges and toilets, the most up-to-date filing system or the best record for returning calls or e-mails because, in the moment, just about any task seems more palatable than sitting down to write.” (p.136)

New Words
Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

• New Word: egress (noun)
Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) (astronomy) the reappearance of a celestial body after an eclipse; 2) the becoming visible; 3) the act of coming (or going) out; becoming apparent
Synonyms: 1) emersion; 2) emergence, issue; 3) egression, emergence
Origins: 1538; from Latin ‘egressus,’ from egredi ‘go out,’ from ex- ‘out’ + -gredi, comb. form of gradi ‘step, go.’
As in: “If you would but open your heart and allow what longs to flow from you easy egress, there would be no block.” (p.113)

Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I so often feel I’m writing books I don’t know about yet. Is it because the words I’m writing are going to be published one day, or because my scribbled notes will become the fuel of future stories? It’s strange, living a life that you know is going to be something someday, but that still isn’t. I suppose it’s akin to being a gardener, sewing seeds in the soil, knowing that one day the garden will be there, its form only visible in the imagination.”

“Gerson’s book is asking me a question, so I suppose I’ll attempt to answer it.
Where are you now? Where are you now in your writing? In your life?
“Well! I can see we’re starting off on an easy note this morning! Alright, where am I now in my life? Well, I’m in a funny place that has me looking to past relationships as I position myself for my next step. I’m in a place of searching and building. I suppose part of that process is about tying up loose ends, taking these last few moments to indulge in reflecting on the unresolved experiences that have made me who I am today, and making sure I’m as ok as I can be about what it took to get me here.

“Where am I in my writing? Well, a few months ago, I was struggling to write 500 words every other day. Today, words flow into everything I do. They spill onto the sheets of my notebook and splatter onto the pages of my blogs. I write job proposals and professional profiles. I contribute to magazines and draft content for clients. I’m seeing many value-added opportunities through the marriage of writing and education (my passions); however, what I’m not seeing is the coming along of my book…or books (perhaps it’s better to just use the singular for now). So, wherever I am in my writing, it’s a place wrought with the guilt of not doing more work on it, overgrown with the fear of facing it, and polluted with clouds of uncertainty that make it all the more difficult to see the path ahead.

“When I close my eyes and think of a word that represents where I am in this moment, change gurgles up my creative esophagus, followed by a reflux of transition, metamorphosis, chameleon, creation, building blocks, turning corners, cultivation, honing, fine tuning, tweaking, experimenting, listening, silence, soliloquy, crafting and obstacling.

“Although not a ‘real’ word, obstacling feels as though it encompasses so much of my current reality – the act of overcoming obstacles. Obstacling. Maybe that’s my word of the day.

“Next, Gerson asks about his readers’ expectations,
What do you want from this book?
“My first thoughts are of what I don’t want. I don’t want homework or assignments. I don’t want exercises every few pages or activities that make me stop to reflect. Then again, a wise man recently told me that ‘children don’t always know what’s good for them,’ so perhaps I would benefit from focusing less on what I don’t want.

“What I want from this book, then, is a friend – a friend that reassures me that I’m not alone, that reminds me that I’m not crazy, and that encourages me to keep swimming (a reference that will make sense to those of you who’ve conversed with Goldberg on her Long Quiet Highway.”

“Humph. Is writing really as simple as tuning into the frequency of your heart, putting pen to paper, and then just…transcribing? I think I might have sort of maybe thought of it like that once before, but only now that I’ve read it on Gerson’s page is it really beginning to sink in. It might actually be that simple. I know that I’m not supposed to judge, that I’m supposed to trust, so maybe fine-tuned transcription is the perfect approach. But what do you do when you have pages and pages of writing, files of notes and a partial manuscript, all insisting on getting your attention? What do you do with all the words once you’ve poured them (at least some of them) out?”

“I fear my pen will run out soon. I suddenly see my pen as a powerful wand, a Harry Potter wand, a magical wand of words!”

“Enough dust has collected on the cover for me to be squeamish about picking it up. Although I’m aware that the message of the book is what I’m actually fearful of, I firmly believe that dust bunnies have no place in the literary equation.”

“Demand brings force. Force inspires fear. Fear drowns out the silence and muffles the gentle hum of creativity.”

[In response to Guided Meditation #1 - Meet Your Muse (pp.36-8)]
“I crossed the threshold of my imagined door, a door engraved with mystical carvings on glimmering, ancient wood. It felt cold on the other side. Everything was dark, black. My muse, a muse, something, approached; an outline of white, the skeleton of a winged creature. We stood, face-to-face, being-to-being, in an empty space of resolved (resigned) understanding. The gift I received before making my way back was a blank page and a pen. The unspoken message, something along the lines of, ‘Keep going.’

“The encounter hasn’t left me feeling fulfilled or inspired. It’s made me wonder what’s around the corner. It’s making me more aware of consequences, the way choices impact the courses of our journeys. I had thought, had assumed, that once the first drop dribbled over the cliff’s edge, there would no stopping the cascade. Am I about to experience a drought?”

[In response to the writing exercise on p.51]

“My healing lies in a place of self-embrace, where sizes are stretched and words are dressed in colorful tunics embroidered with lace from foreign lands no map can chart. My healing lies in the space between my breath – a place undisturbed by attempts to control and define. My healing lies outside of me, for everything inside pushes order ahead of the unknown. How can healing have enough room to spread and stretch in a space too small to measure? My healing lies in a place I haven’t found, in a direction I’m forgetting to look. Does healing mean succeeding, or is it just another sequence of letters defining acceptance?”

“What would you say if someone were to tell you that the book you were about to start reading was equivalent to a yoga class for writers, where the words were the teacher and the writing activities were the poses? How would you feel holding a verbal asana for minutes at a time, meditating on the imagery of the author’s vision, while trying to maintain a deep, even breath? To me, it feels as though I’m wobbling my way through tree pose, desperately trying not to fall on my face, not because of the inevitable pain but to avoid having to publicly admit that I couldn’t do it. When reading words turns into a strenuous exercise, it’s difficult to want to get back to the verbal gym the next day.”

[In response to the writing exercise on p.98]
“I follow my pen wherever it carries me. Today it carries me to…

“…the ends of the earth, where I can tickle the stars with the tips of my lashes and caress the sands with a hand touched by the mercy of a moment’s repose.

“…the center of the softest of all marshmallows, where there’s none of the stickiness and all of the joy these puffs bestow upon good girls and boys when the time comes to greet the forest and count the leaves and feel the freedom of sleeping outside.

“…a place with no walls and no keys and not even ripe cheese. All that exists is the nothingness in between.”

“I trusted today. I trusted, despite time constraints and inner fears. I trusted. I sat in front of the computer, and I trusted. What poured out was a story I discovered for the first time as it filled the screen. I trusted words today, and now I think I believe that words trust me. They trust me to carry them with me each day. They trust me not to lose them as I rifle through my bag for a piece of gum and dig through my change purse for my office key. They trust me to share them with you. It is for trust that I am grateful today.”

“Reading this book can be restful, which isn’t an adjective I expected to use when I started it. I expected a tormented experience that thrashed me against the waves of my resistance. Instead, or rather, in addition to what I expected, I also got a reminder to breathe, encouragement to withdraw from the tension and to splash in my frothing pool of unused words.

“I wouldn’t recommend this book to commuters who spend their time reading on trains, not unless you have a very steady hand when inspiration strikes. Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t assume people still write with quill on parchment. Gerson does inspire, but more than encouraging me to write, he continuously reminds me to relax – a welcome reminder he seems to have known I would need nearly each day of the year it took me to complete my journey with him. For that, I am thankful.”

“Near the end of the book, Gerson reflects on how the meaning of words is defined more by the meaning we put into them than by the meaning we find in the dictionary. He talks about what the word feedback means to him.

“On first thought, feedback is something I feel as though I’m supposed to like, supposed to be open to, supposed to want to invite into my writing process. On second thought, I admit to fearing the process – fearing being told to go back and rewrite what I thought had already taken full form. But if I’m honest with myself, if I open up to the core of my truth, then the process of receiving feedback is akin to (slowly and patiently) unwrapping a present.

“Even when you know you’re going to get a gift, that first moment of receipt is so often filled with excitement. You see the beautiful promise of potential coming your way. There is so much possibility in that moment, so much fuel for the imagination.

“Then you begin to unwrap it. You notice the slightly ripped paper, the uneven folds, the off-centered ribbon, the strips of wrinkled tape. You disregard them, refusing to give them permission to ruin the perfect image of your first impression.

“Once you get past the paper and bows, you reach the box – undecorated, unimaginative, disappointing. You may even discover that it’s a recycled box of crackers or of discounted muffin mix that’s been forming the shape of your gift.

“It’s only when you work through the process of unwrapping your present, tearing apart its shell of generic packaging, that you begin to capture a glimpse of the true gift hidden inside. The more you unwrap, the closer you get to your truth.

“The best part of feedback is the realization that the real gift was better than what you first expected. Yes, sometimes you get a gift you don’t want or that you don’t think you need, but that’s just life’s way of helping you learn acceptance. And, as is often the case when the festivities are over, you’re left with lots of used wrapping paper, some of which will get tossed, and some that can be salvaged for future gifts.”

• Reprinted from The Uncustomary Book Review: A Conversation with the Reader, 5/29/2011

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