Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Wheel of the Year: A Writer's Workbook


by Susan

Having attended her workshops and retreats, when I heard Linda M. Hasselstrom had a book on writing out, I knew I needed it.

The Wheel of the Year: A Writer's Workbook provides 16 seasonal essays on writing with accompanying suggestions and exercises. Linda divides the year into eight seasons, not four, so the book covers a span of two years:
Eight seasons, instead of 12 or only four, seem to correspond much more closely with the way the natural world arranges itself around us, creating the rhythms of our lives. Eight seasons more fully describe the subtle ways that the natural world changes throughout the year no matter where one lives. Organizing my writing life around the seasons that influence my body seems practical to me. On these eight occasions, I am reminded to particularly notice the natural world and its works and study how my writing is part of that world.
I consider Linda a mentor, and have benefited many times from her wise advice and from the copious handouts she gives to retreat-goers. Like many writers, I struggle to to balance my life commitments with my creative side. In the preface, I was particularly struck with her thoughts that our tasks and obligations are part of our writing, not a detraction from it:
I define the mundane world as the one most of us inhabit, with floors that must be vacuumed, toilets to be scrubbed, and the same dishes and clothes to be washed over and over and over again. These are the tasks writers often cite as the cause that they do not write, but I believe we can find rejuvenation for our writing in them. 
My friend and fellow writer Kathleen Norris has written several times, most notably in The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work," of the meditation that can be accomplished while doing these chores. She says that the "rejection of the sanctity of daily tasks was self-defeating in the long run," serving to alienate a woman not only from the wisdom of her mother and grandmothers, "but from the pleasure of cooking, serving and eating some very good food." Caring for a household is caring for those within it, respecting their lives and your own. Certainly this labor is a worthy subject of poetry or any other kind of writing.
In the seasons of the book, we just entered Samhain on October 31, considered to be the beginning of the Wiccan year in some circles. It's a beginning of sorts for me: I was born just before the end of October. "Women's work" takes on added weight when you think of the significance of the harvest:
Linda with her pumpkin harvest
In mid-October, when I seized any excuse to go outside on warm days, I gathered the last of the tomatoes and pulled the vines. I stored the pumpkins, onions and potatoes and added their leaves to the compost bin. Pulled the pea and bean vines and stuffed them under the berry bushes for mulch, to catch snow this winter. 
In days gone by, my prehistoric country ancestors spent these same days in harvesting their garden and bringing cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to sheltered stables. Just like the ranchers around me, they were harvesting hay to feed the animals during the winter. Some of the creatures were slaughtered for winter sustenance; in pagan times each death was dedicated with thanks to the gods of harvest. Fields were gleaned of barley, oats, wheat, turnips and apples because the ancients believed that on November 1, fairies would blast the growing plants with their cold breath. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high beside the hearth and in sheltered locations outside. Everyone in the family worked together baking, salting meat and making preserves, storing enough food so that the so the tribe could survive the winter.
Today, we don't generally worry that if we don't prepare adequately for the coming darkness that we won't eat. Yet, there is something to be said for preparing ourselves as writers for the dark, knowing it will again turn to light:
Every ending, though, is a beginning. The gates of life and death open together. A writer's observations at the ending of this season may grow into new work, a new writing life. To fend off the darkness of spirit that may descend on you in winter, make notes now and create a writing schedule to pursue each week, each month until the light returns. 
I look forward to delving into Samhain with Linda and experiencing the coming seasons with her through this book. I anticipate it will become one of the favorites on my writing shelf.

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With 15 books in print, Linda M. Hasselstrom writes and conducts writing retreats in person and by email from her South Dakota ranch. Her most recent nonfiction title is The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook, 16 essays with writing suggestions and resources. Her latest poetry book is: Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, poems with Twyla M. Hansen, Nebraska state poet. Find her at www.windbreakhouse.com/, and follow her on her blog and on Facebook

Excerpts from The Wheel of the Year used by permission of Linda M. Hasselstrom.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you, Susan, for this fine description and commentary on the book.

    Is it appropriate to say that the book can be ordered from me at Windbreak House Retreats, PO Box 169, Hermosa, S.D. 57744? And that it's $23. plus $5 postage?

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    1. Thanks for the ordering info, Linda. Didn't mean to leave that bit out!

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  2. "Caring for a household is caring for those within it, respecting their lives and your own." -- Amen to that! I find that my back-burner brain goes to work best, solving narrative dilemmas and digging up language, whenever my hands are engaged in chores. Looking forward to reading more, Linda--thanks!

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  3. I love that quote too, Lynn! So true! I used to hate all "women's work" on general principle until I realized that I don't actually dislike it. Laundry allows for a lot of thinking time!

    The idea of eight seasons is interesting. I look forward to hearing about them!

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    1. Chere - this is Susan. I'll bring the book next time I see you so you can take a look.

      Laundry isn't so meditative for me, but cleaning the kitchen usually is. I may have to reframe my laundry time to take advantage of it.

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