Friday, January 31, 2014

The Writing Report for January

I realized the other day that the fourth Friday of the month, the day I was intending to publish a Writing Report each month, was last week! Better late than never, I suppose. I blame it on the fact that this month has five Fridays, so I got a little confused with my own posting schedule.

My writing had, like most people's, slowed down quite a bit over the holidays, but has begun to pick up speed again this month, as can be seen in this graph of "Hours Spent Writing Each Week," vs. the weeks in November, December and January. Those two low spots, in weeks 4 and 8, are (you guessed it) Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I still have a target in mind of 10 hours per week, so I'm glad that my time-on-task has started to go up, at least, even though I've missed my target every week since I started keeping track. But this is okay, and I know what I'm aiming for, so I'm glad to see the way the line is trending the past three weeks. Onward and upward!

It really IS important to spend time actually writing, but I've also learned how important it is to think about my writing before I actually sit down and work. In that vein, I've made some good progress on the novel I've been working on for some time, thanks to the advice I've recently received from my new writing consultant, Kathryn Johnson. I found Kathryn through her association with The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, where I have taken a number of workshops over the years. She is an instructor there, but also a published author of more than forty novels--in other words, she knows what she's talking about, and I got a lot of great ideas and advice from her after she read my current novel draft. I now have a list of things to work on for this book, which is going to keep me busy for quite some time.

The last bit of news for this month is that last week I started my first class at Johns Hopkins University as a student in the MA in Fiction program. It's the first course in the program, Fiction Techniques, and I'm pleased to say I did all the reading for the first week as well as the assignment, so things are off to a good start.

One of the readings from last week was by John Gardner, "Basic Skills, Genre, and Fiction as Dream." I was struck, especially, by one passage in this classic and wanted to leave you with it, since it describes, better than anything I've ever read, just why it is that I am a writer.

Good description does far more: It is one of the writer's means of reaching down into his unconscious mind, finding clues to what questions his fiction must ask, and, with luck, hints about the answers. Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them.

And this, in fact, is why I write: to put down that image that has stuck with me forever, even though I don't know why, and to work with it, writing around it and over it and through it, until one day I realize that the story I've been telling has explained to me just why I had been so struck by that initial image, and why it would never let me go.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Three Degrees Fahrenheit Today

For more Wordless Wednesday, see the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Science Sunday: Yoga and Medicine

Medical Yoga Symposium Jan 11-12, 2014
This weekend I have been attending a Medical Yoga Symposium in Washington, DC, which is co-sponsored by Therapeutic Yoga of Greater Washington and the Center for Integrative Medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center.

As a long-time practitioner of yoga, a yoga teacher and a scientist, I am very interested in scientific studies of the effects of yoga and its use in addressing disease and medical issues. I have personally benefited from my yoga practice in ways that have clearly improved my health, but as a scientist I want to understand more about why this is, and am always hungry for information on this topic that is not tainted by the hype and pseudo-science that is so rampant in this field.

I signed up for this conference because the presenters have deep backgrounds in both yoga practice and in medicine and science, with most of the speakers holding MDs or PhDs or, in several cases, both degrees. Speakers on Saturday included Dean Ornish, MD (Preventive Medicine Research Institute), Timothy McCall, MD (author of the book Yoga as Medicine), Richard Miller, PhD (of the Integrative Restoration Institute) and several others. I hope to post a longer article after the conference concludes with more details about the contents of the talks, which cover both yoga as a therapeutic intervention, as well as research reports about the influence of yoga on disease and health.

For some years now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded research on the effects of yoga on a variety of health issues, including back pain, arthritis, diabetes, HIV, menopausal symptoms, multiple sclerosis and as a therapeutic tool for cessation of smoking. The NIH has posted a list of references where you can read more about the results of these and other studies.

Watch for an update when the conference concludes!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Yoga Monday

Welcome to the first in my new series, Yoga Monday. This post also appears on my other blog, Yoga Emergence, along with a number of other articles about yoga and teaching yoga.

A couple of days ago, I offered a free Introduction to Yoga class in order to provide an opportunity for all those folks whose new year's resolution list includes "Take up yoga!" As expected for the first week of January, there was a great turnout, so many people, in fact, that we ran out of props for the first time ever. I'm offering this class again on January 18 (more info here) so if you are in the area, please consider attending!

The folks who attended this special class had a wide range of experiences with yoga, including several who had never tried it, but also more than a few who had years of experience. Some were looking for a new teacher or, in a couple of cases, were just in town for the holidays and away from their regular class, so dropping in for a visit. It was an interesting mix of people and I enjoyed talking to the new folks about what brought them to the study of yoga.

It is often the case that the issue that brings us to yoga is not the one that keeps us there. In my own case, I was gradually introduced to the practice through the efforts of a couple of fitness instructors who were, themselves, taking yoga lessons and trying the moves out during the stretching sessions at the end of class. I liked those parts of their classes a lot and tried out an actual yoga class, a free "Intro to Yoga" session offered by the local hospital. I liked it a lot, too, but didn't think I had time to add another "work-out routine" to my already busy schedule.

Even though I was not yet 40, I had a lot of aches and pains, particularly in my low back, and  I finally consulted a chiropractor who advised doing what I recognized as a move that we had practiced in that intro class--a simple reclining twist. A light bulb went off. I realized that yoga was more than just another form of exercise. Here was a method that might actually make me feel better.

And, so, I sought out a teacher, which wasn't easy in those days and in that place (the late 1980s in Indianapolis) but I found her and commenced upon the more organized portion of my yoga journey. It was to be many years before my study and practice helped me to fully deal with my lower back pain, but I quickly learned that yoga made me feel better in many ways--not just physically, but emotionally and, even, spiritually. 

If you practice yoga, what brought you to the practice? If you've practiced for awhile, have your reasons changed? I would be interested in hearing your story!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Post Schedule

Happy New Year! I hope you are as excited about the coming year as I am. There is much fun and good work to look forward to this year, including yoga classes to teach, writing classes to delve into and science to learn and write about.

Since so many interesting things are beckoning to me this year, I might worry about being overwhelmed. But what do I do? Why, add another activity, of course!

One way I have found that helps tremendously to tame the swirl of activities and interests in my life is to write about it. So, one of my new year's resolutions is to develop a more regular posting schedule, dividing the posts evenly among my three many activities: yoga, science and writing. I will post once per month on each topic according to the following schedule:

Yoga Monday - The first Monday of the month will be a post about yoga. This post will be cross-listed to my other blog, Yoga Emergence.

Science Sunday - The second Sunday of each month will be a post about one of the multitude of interesting science stories that cross my desk every week. There is so much fascinating stuff going on in the world of science these days and I'm always eager to share what I've learned.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - The third Wednesday of the month will feature a photo or other graphic image, with very few, if any, words. This is not a new feature of my blog, as I love photography and have always had lots of photos to share. Since putting up these posts has always been one of my favorite blogging activities, I'm keeping this feature in the posting schedule.

The Writing Report - The last Friday of each month will feature a report on my writing activities for that month. I spend a lot of my time on this part of my life and, as I begin my studies toward an MA in Writing at Johns Hopkins University, I'm especially excited about this new feature for my blog.

Watch for the first offering in my new posting Monday, when the first Yoga Monday selection is scheduled to appear. And, in the meantime, best wishes for a fabulous 2014!!