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being 45

being 45

Last week my physical therapist asked me how old I am. I told her I was turning 45 on Thursday and she responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Her reaction stunned me. It shouldn’t have considering the general view of aging, especially for women, in this country. But it did. And I’ve thought about it since: What does it mean to be 45?

Into my 30’s, I subconsciously cast 45 off as old, when dreams have been long realized and everything from there was on a downslope. But as pages of the calendar seem to be flipping off in a windstorm of years, I’ve gained a new perspective.

Let’s not sugarcoat–aging sucks. I’ve never met anyone who wants wrinkles, aches, pains, inevitable loss, new knees, gray hair, or saggy skin. Not once. And yet, that’s where we are all headed. Until our spirits rise, we are destined to live inside an aging body.

But if we are willing to say yes to life, we must be willing to say yes to it all.  And when I step into the light of grace, of what it means to be given 45 years of life on Earth, I realize I have needed every one of those years to get to where I am now, and there is not one year I would give back.

Forty-five to me means going to college and discovering how humungous the world is, breaking rules, boarding airplanes to lands unknown, walking barefoot on beaches and riding bikes through cities, wildflower meadows, and over canyons. It means being in classrooms and lecture halls, both as student and teacher, always learning and discovering. It means taking my time and following my curiosities, and it means getting lost, wandering, and finding my way back. It means breaking my heart and falling in love and making mistakes and saying I’m sorry and practicing bravery and working really hard and being really grateful. It means marrying my best friend and realizing it was worth the wait. It means growing children in my belly and watching them become who they are, spirits and journeys all their own. It means being the “fortune teller” at the school carnival and reading The Giving Tree before bed. It means letting Lucy destroy the kitchen to make “slime,” and watching Oliver disappear down the sidewalk on his bike, praying he arrives at Spencer’s house safely.

It means all of the experiences I’ve had and all of the people who’ve crossed my path and taught me about love and life.

I am 45 and there is no apology necessary. Instead, I want to tilt my head back and sing to the sky, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, for all of it.

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let the revolution begin

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At 9:45 sharp, I stood in front of 25 students, all undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, welcoming them to their first “Personal Leadership in the University,” class this semester.  Aside from the three things they each chose to tell the class about themselves, things like, “I like sports,” or “I love to cook, and I make a mean cheesecake,” or “I’m a small-town girl at heart,” I know nothing of these students.

Except.

I know they have worked hard to get to where they are, in these seats facing me, in this room, at this R1 university that accepts a fraction of the students that apply.  I know that I am meeting them at a critical juncture of their lives, when they have left the nests of familiarity, of what they have known, into a future that is yet unknown, yet to be created.  I know that they have dreams and friends and families and struggles and fears and desires and anger and happiness and hurt and courage and hope. I know they each have a story, stories full of possibility and power to change the world.

And when I stand in front of them and share my story, I spare none of my failures.  I tell them that when I was in a student like them, sitting in my chair on my first day of college, I could hear the walls I had built around myself begin to rumble. I could feel a falling apart, a cluelessness about who I was and what I wanted, a feeling of aloneness, of being the only one who had no idea what I was doing with my life.  I tell them I was so riddled with uncertainty and depression, I rarely made it to my classes, graduating five years later with a mediocre GPA, a blank slate, and enough desperation and determination to create a life that resonated with the thrum of my soul’s longing.

I share these things in part because I know mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are epidemic in universities today.  But mostly I share these things because I have a deep belief that sometimes we need to fall apart, obliterate what we have known and think we know in favor of what we may discover, about life and about ourselves, about what we have to give, about our unique talents, and about the profound gifts that can come from profound struggle.

I invite them to be human, to not know. Because in this space of not knowing, in the blank spaces of our lives, we have an opportunity to innovate, to create an idea or thought or solution that has yet to be created.  In my classroom, we begin each day entering the pages of our journals, where I invite them to create the greatest art they will ever create–their lives.

Let the revolution begin.

 

 

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how to write a novel

I wrote my first draft of "Phoenix" by hand.

I wrote my first draft of “Phoenix” by hand.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows them.”
-Author Kirby Larson, 2013 SCBWI Conference, Los Angeles, CA

I was eight or so years old when I had a sudden and certain epiphany that I would write books for kids when I grew up. I was in my basement reading a Beverly Cleary book when it hit me.

I ran upstairs to tell my parents, and their reaction was similar to one I would expect if I had I told them I wanted to saddle up a pig and join the rodeo.

I spent the next 25 years paralyzed by self-doubt and fear. Fear that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know anyone that had done it besides the people whose books I was reading.

But the dream wouldn’t leave. Since that day in my basement, it lived in me.

I had my first child before I finally accepted that the dream wouldn’t go away, and if I didn’t answer it, if I didn’t at least try, it would annihilate me. It became more painful not to try than to walk through the fear and just do it.

For the next few years, I woke up when the house was still dark and silent, while my two babies slept, and wrote my first novel, 1000 words at a time. I was terrified. My husband wouldn’t have his first sip of coffee before I was standing in front of him, eyes wide, panicked, “I can’t do this! I don’t know what happens next!”

Anne Lamott said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait, you watch, you work. You don’t give up.”

I haven’t figured out how to get my manuscript published yet—there is a learning curve to this process as well. But this post is about writing a novel, which is the necessary first step if you want to be a novelist anyway.

Here are a few thoughts I have about how to write a novel:

  • Make a space of time and a commit to show up on a regular basis.
  • It’s ok if you don’t know what you are going to write. I think it’s normal.  Just have faith, start writing, plug into your flow, step aside, and the words will come. It’s magic.
  • Read a book you love or an author you admire for a few minutes before you start writing to get creatively inspired if necessary.
  • Open up a blank page (I typed my first novel and hand-wrote my second before I typed it.) and dive in, just like you are jumping into cold water. 1-2-3 go.
  • Don’t stop until you have created a really rough and shabby first draft.  It doesn’t matter if it’s clunky and chunky. You will revise it many times and make it beautiful.
  • Throughout the process, try to get comfortable with Uncertainty, and write ahead of that asshole Self-Doubt.
  • Put one word in front of the other and don’t stop. This is a literary endurance adventure.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests letting the first draft simmer for a few months to get some distance before going back to see it again and begin the fine art of revision. I think this is awesome advice.

It’s such an amazing thing, to write a novel. To create something from nothing. It is a discipline and an art. It’s an honor to simply have the desire to write, and because of it, we must answer the call, no matter how scared we are.

I am finishing my second novel, which was a lot more fun to write than the first. I love it. I love them both. Whether or not they are ever published, they were born straight from my heart, bravery, belief, and effort. And for those things alone, every word was worth the effort.

The following photos are artifacts from writing Phoenix:

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Some pages and days don't make the first cut.

Some pages and days don’t make the first cut.

I made a vision board shortly after I began writing Phoenix.

I made a vision board shortly after I began writing Phoenix.

I am still sending "Blue" to agents and editors, like a faucet dripping very.  slowly.

I am still sending “Blue” to agents and editors, like a faucet dripping very. slowly.

 

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upcoming class announcement

Journaling for Inspiration, Empowerment, and Soul-Tending at Homewood Studios!

We are each and all more powerful than we know. The challenge is to make the time to silence the madness around us so we can listen deeply to ourselves and our lives in order to affect positive change and growth.

Writing in a journal is a powerfully transformative literary art and healing practice that helps us reduce stress, depression and anxiety; let go of thoughts and ways that deplete our souls to make room for thoughts and ideas that empower; envision our deepest desires and dreams; and give energy and power to our goals and intentions.

During this once-monthly journaling class for both writers and non-writers, we will silence the outside world in order to listen to that still, small voice of wisdom within and dig into the earth of our lives and souls.

The class free and open to all in our community. This is a drop-in class—pre-registration is not necessary. Participants may attend as many or as few classes as they like.

Where? Homewood Studios, 2400 Plymouth Avenue N., Minneapolis, MN, 55411

When? The first Monday of each month from 7:00-8:00pm, January-June, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015: Writing and Mindfulness

Monday, February 2, 2015: Writing and Self-love and Acceptance

Monday, March 2, 2015: Writing and Power in Vulnerability

Monday, April 6, 2015: Writing and Balance

Monday, May 4, 2015: Writing and Inspiration

Monday, June 1, 2015: Writing and Dream-keeping

Who? Free and open to all writers and non-writers in the community.

Why? Because we all need a place pause life and listen to the wisdom within.

What will you need to bring? Yourselves, a notebook (or journal) and pen.

For more than a decade Janna Brayman Krawczyk has taught journaling as a contemplative literary art to teen moms and CEO’s, therapists and thugs throughout the Twin Cities. Her essays have been presented in numerous publications and media outlets including Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Women’s Press, Mamapedia, Tinybuddha, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is also a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, an adjunct professor at Hamline University, and a proud resident of North Minneapolis.

 

 

 

 

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fear and imperfection

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I’m 42 years old and I’m realizing for the trillionth time that there is no way in the world to be perfect—to write perfectly, parent perfectly, to be a perfect friend or partner, to look perfect, act perfect, have a perfectly clean house and a perfectly clean life.

But I catch myself expecting it. I think about times when I’ve been impatient with the kids, the time I spanked two-year-old Oliver’s diapered butt because he wouldn’t take a nap. I’ve played it in my head over and over and over, getting stuck on a futile negative feedback loop.

Sometimes I shrink with shame about how I look, the kid with the bad perm that smelled like her parents’ cigarette smoke; the woman walking into a coffee shop, wearing her imperfections on her forehead.

We can forever feel bad about ourselves, wanting to change this, change that, make appointments, and criticize ourselves.

Or we can choose to be fully, wholeheartedly, unabashedly ourselves. That includes everything—every idiosyncrasy, every fault, every failing, every time we lost our cool, everything we love about ourselves and everything we hate about ourselves.

My good friend once brought up the idea of “radical acceptance.” For a while, every time I felt ashamed, I’d think about what it would feel like if I could truly, deeply, and forever accept everything about myself.

You know what it would feel like? Freedom. Total and utter freedom.

I want that. I want freedom from beating myself up about things I can’t control.

In order to get there, though, we have to walk into fire, look squarely at what we fear to discover what it is we are really afraid of.

And in order to do that, we need to shine a bright light on our darkest spaces. There we will not only find our fears, faults, and failings, but we will also find our softness, our kindness, our humility, and our grace. It is in the dark spaces where we discover the gifts from our struggles.

It is not in perfection that we find wisdom and strength. These things only come from being exactly who we are.

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.”

–Florida Scott-Maxwell

 

 

 

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