Friday, March 28, 2014

The Writing Report for March

We're about to close out the month of March in a few days and with April right around the corner, I've started to think about writing conferences. In trying to decide if I will go to any this year, I've needed to consider all the other obligations in my life, as well as the intent of each conference. I've made my first choice, and will be attending the annual Conversations and Connections conference next Saturday, April 5th.

This conference, organized by Barrelhouse Magazine and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Master of Arts in Writing program (in which I'm enrolled) has been going on since 2007. I've attended two or three of these conferences and it was actually at last year's conference that I first began to realize that an MA program might be what I needed to move my writing to the next level.

This insight came during the popular "Speed Dating with Editors" event that takes place over the lunch hour. Participants bring a few pages of a piece--any type, fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction--and sit with an editor from a literary magazine or small press for instant feedback.

Another upcoming conference that I considered attending but couldn't fit into my schedule is the second annual Books Alive! conference sponsored by the Washington Independent Review of Books. That conference is tomorrow, so if you're interested, check it out right now.

There will be more conferences over the next few months. One I won't be able to attend again (since I will be enrolled in a workshop at Hopkins) is the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. This is not actually a conference, but an ongoing series of workshops that takes place over most of June and July. I had a fantastic experience there last summer and would go again if I could work it into my schedule. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Science Sunday: The Complexity of Your Gut

Nature Immunology recently released a very cool video showing how the immune response plays out in your gut. Watch and learn!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Yoga Monday: Let it Be

It is snowing. Again. I took this photo about ten minutes ago, and the flakes are still coming down. The weather service says this will continue for several more hours.

It's about 18 degrees Fahrenheit out there, and expected to drop even further, to around 8 degrees by tomorrow morning. The federal government, my area's largest employer, is closed, as are all the county offices and school districts.

Even the bus system has shut down. All of these events have transformed my neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, just three miles outside of Washington, DC, into an oasis of utter quiet. No buses trundling by on Lee Highway, a half block away from my house. No cars. No sounds outside at all, except the bluster of the wind as it rattles my windows every few moments.

I could rail against this, point out that we've had just about enough winter already, thank you very much. Or I could dismiss it, the way many of us who have been transplanted to Washington DC react to the inevitable freakout that accompanies every flake that hits the area, saying it's just a little snow and people here don't know what real snow is, not the kind of snow we had back in Idaho and Montana and North Dakota.

Or I could notice how quiet it is. I could notice how relaxed I am, how peaceful it feels in my house, how tasty that lunch was that I just made for myself. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich! What could be better? I could notice that the snow is clean and white and beautiful, as snow always is. I could notice that our heat is working because our power is still on. I could notice that I am grateful for this, and for all of these things.

I could also notice that it is snowing whether I want it to snow or not. I could notice that nothing I say or do or feel will change the fact that, today, it is snowing. Again. This is today's truth.

In yoga, we have a set of ethical principles, the yamas and the niyamas, which appear in the yoga sutras as guides to our practice. Among the yamas, which are the "external disciplines," we find satya, which means truthfulness. When we practice satya, we focus on that which is true, that which is--not that which we would like or wish to be, but that which actually exists.

When we apply satya to our asana practice, we are truthful with ourselves about just how far we can stretch those hamstrings or bend that back. We don't pretend that we can stretch farther than we can or bend more than we ought. If we do, we are being untrue, to ourselves, as well as to the practice.

When we apply satya to our lives, we are truthful about everything--we accept the truth of our past and our present, we accept the truth of who we are, and who we are not. And we especially accept the truth of things we cannot control, like the weather.

Among the niyamas, those "internal disciplines" that guide our yoga practice, we find santosa, which means contentment. A verse in the yoga sutras says, about santosa, "Contentment brings unsurpassed joy."

And, thus, we arrive at the essential lesson of these two yogic principles: by letting go of our attachment to the way things ought to be, and accepting the truth of the way things actually are, we will find joy.

It is snowing. Let it be.