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Writing Prompt: Where Are You Writing From?

During this week’s writing group, I walked us through a meditation that brought attention to the head, heart, and gut. I asked you to notice how each feels, what each might say. Are they in harmony? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been personally exploring what my needs are. Identifying them, let alone communicating them to others, can feel so foreign! How am I supposed to tell you what my needs are when they’re constantly changing and often conflicting? Sometimes my head thinks I need to hurry and get more work done, while my heart is telling me to slow down and offer myself space for self-care. For me, being in alignment means my head, heart, and gut can all get on the same page – or at least respect one another and work together. 

Checking in with these different parts of myself was first introduced to me on my first-ever silent retreat, led by an incredible spiritual teacher and author, Will Pye. Until I arrived at the retreat in Eastern Tennessee, which required me to fly for four hours, then drive another four hours, I had no idea the long-weekend retreat was silent. This concept – the inner dialogue between my head, heart, and gut – assigned names to the competing thoughts in my head and provided me with some much-needed comic relief. I started journaling a script, as though they were distinct characters with their own unique feelings about being on a silent retreat: 

  • My head: “WTF?! A silent retreat? I’m so uncomfortable! How awkward to have to eat with these people and not say anything… What the hell am I supposed to do? Do I make eye contact? No, that makes it more awkward… Where do I look?” 
  • My heart: “Oh no, how will I ever connect with these strangers if I can’t talk to them?” 
  • My gut: “Thank god I don’t have to make small talk and socialize.” 

This is something to think about when you write. Who’s really speaking? Which place, or part of your body, are you writing from? Often, I’ll start out writing with my head, trying to get all of the important details on the page. (Sometimes this means my ego gets mixed in there, and I’m including superficial details that don’t really serve the reader.) Then, I pour my heart out and onto it, letting the words flow freely even if they don’t make sense. Finally, my gut becomes my editor with the final say, intuitively cutting out what doesn’t need to be there, while expanding on and finessing my original thoughts.

The next time you sit down to write, consider what roles the different parts of yourself play in your own process. Put them to work for you (not against each other). 

Writing Prompt: Why Do You Write?

During the beginning of her classes, one of my root yoga teachers often asks her students why: “Why do you practice? Why do you show up? What is it you care about?” She asks us to get to the “root of the root” of our intention. Often, when she asks this, I grow anxious and uncomfortable, not wanting to dive in too deep (perhaps my resistance is my fear of “taking in the good,” as we explored a few weeks ago).

And it’s not just intention-setting; she challenges the future yoga teachers she trains to ask why when building their sequences, to ensure their classes are safe and functional. I’ll be honest, as a rookie yoga teacher, sometimes I don’t know why I put a particular pose in my own sequences. I do it because I like the pose and feel comfortable teaching it, not necessarily because it’s aligned with my intention for the class, theme, or the peak pose I’m leading my students toward. This preliminary step is a great exercise in keeping me in check. 

Similarly, in her new book Everything Is Figureoutable, Marie Forleo encourages her readers to get clear on why they want a certain goal.

“List as many whys as you can, then for every why you generate, dig deeper. Ask yourself, ‘And why is that important?’ Then ask it again. ‘And why is that important? What will that ultimately do for me and others?’ Drill down several layers until you get to the core of why this dream matters and what you want to feel, experience, or share as a result of achieving it.” 

Marie Forleo, Everything Is Figureoutable

I also ask the writers I work with why they want to write – both in general and about specific projects they’re working on. It becomes clear to me, their editor, (and, most likely, will be just as obvious to readers) when they do not consider this crucial question.

For instance, I’ve been sharing some vulnerable reflections on Breathe Together Online, a digital magazine I recently helped my yoga studio launch. Had I written about these painful experiences as I was going through them, my intention might have been driven – or at the very least confused – by my ego (a desire for validation, revenge, attention, etc.), and my message would have been misguided and murky. I had to get clear that I wanted my past to be an offering for anyone who might be struggling like I was then. This is probably why it took me so long to share it; I had to heal those wounds and parts of myself first before I could write from a true place of service.  

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg has an essay titled “Why Do I Write?” Here are some of her reasons:

  1. “Because I’m a jerk. 
  2. Because I want the boys to be impressed. 
  3. So my mother will like me.
  4. So my father will hate me.
  5. No one listens to me when I speak.
  6. So I can start a revolution.
  7. In order to write the great American novel and make a million dollars.
  8. Because I’m neurotic.
  9. Because I’m the reincarnation of William Shakespeare.
  10. Because I have something to say.
  11. Because I have nothing to say.” 

She continues,

“Writing has tremendous energy. If you find a reason for it, any reason, it seems that rather than negate the act of writing, it makes you burn deeper and glow brighter on the page. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I write?’ or ‘Why do I want to write?,’ but don’t think about it. Take pen and paper and answer it with clear, assertive statements. Every statement doesn’t have to be 100 percent true and each line can contradict the others. Even lie if you need to, to get going. If you don’t know why you write, answer as though you do know why.”

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

This is the prompt I offered writers to explore last week. No matter what type of project you’re working on – a chapter in your book, a manuscript, an article for a journalism outlet, copy or content writing for your business – it’s worthwhile to examine your intention or the goal you’re working toward.

A couple suggestions:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Practice “stream of conscious” writing, and allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind and wants to be expressed through you.
  • Remember: There is no wrong answer. But, in order to get where you’re going, it’s essential to know why you want to get there.
  • Whatever your reason, your readers will feel the intention behind it. 
  • Similar to the meditation we’ve been exploring, check in with your head, heart, and gut. Are their motives similar or different? Listen to what each has to say, and, rather than trying to change their responses, get curious about a way they all can cooperate and work together. 

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Interview with ‘Broad City’ Costume Designer Staci Greenbaum

Originally published at StyleCaster.com on August 17, 2015. Photo credits: Comedy Central/Ali Goldstein, Lane Savage and Linda Kallerus

While Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer might not be your typical city-dwelling trendsetters, the stars and creators of Comedy Central’s “Broad City” are raising the bar for powerful, authentic women on television—and serving as an unlikely source of style inspiration in the process. Yes, their characters’ clothing choices are sometimes questionable (see: Ilana’s Fruit Loop leggings and fanny pack combo), but they’re always made confidently, and we can all learn something from their audacious attitude.

We stole a few minutes with the show’s costume designer Staci Greenbaum, who is guest-speaking at global tradeshow MAGIC in Las Vegas this week, to discuss the psychology behind Abbi and Ilana’s wardrobes, how she puts together their budget-friendly ensembles, and how to channel the girls’ confidence into your own closet—plus what’s in store for the new season.

You’ve worked in the wardrobe department of dramas such as “Person of Interest” and “Mildred Pierce.” Do you approach dressing for a comedy series differently than other genres? “Yes, indeed you do. It’s a lot more fun—in different ways. There’s something really beautiful about those other genres, but you certainly have [more] flexibility. You very rarely are exploring a costume to be funny or over the top just for the sake of it being over the top in those other genres because it’s not supposed to be garnering your attention necessarily.”

How would you describe the girls personalities, and how do you convey this in each of their wardrobe choices? “I would say that Ilana is filterless, guileless, free-spirited, and exploratory. She loves herself, and she doesn’t hold back. That tends to translate in her costumes; we play a lot with proportions, and we try to redefine what is sexy—it’s not for anyone but herself, which is really the beautiful part about it: that unapologetic confidence that she has to walk around her bedroom in a shirt with no pants on, platform wedges, and really big statement earrings. Her personality is just so…she’s like her own magical unicorn.

And then Abbi is also very fun-loving, a little bit of a romantic, and very aspirational in the way that she approaches life. She has more rules for herself, as far as who she wants to be when she grows up. She wants to see strides, and so she aspires to be more of a professional and have an end goal. We see that in the level of practicality with the way that she dresses. We see a lot of repetition and a more traditional normcore aesthetic from her—with a little bit of feminine touches scattered about with her cool, urban things.”

How are you approaching the new season? “I hope that this season, we’ll see a little bit of growth in the characters, but what’s so special about “Broad City” specifically is that these girls are trying to navigate their way through New York. So with every step forward that they make, they usually take two steps backwards—hop to the side, slip a little bit, and then land backwards. So, I hope that we get to have some really fun moments costume-wise for the girls when it’s appropriate and that people really feel like they can relate to it.”

Do you have any fashion rules you follow for them? “I wonder if they’re hard rules because once you set them, you usually defy them. Actually, it’s funny you say that because, lately, there is a color that is out right now, like everywhere, and it keeps coming onto my racks from shopping. It is a golden rod, kind of burnt ochre. It takes a very special skin tone to wear that color, and it is not very flattering. Right now, that is my only rule, [not to put] that on camera and on these lovely girls. Beyond that, I don’t think there should be rules. There are some things we stay away from—like Ilana doesn’t wear pants and Abbi doesn’t frequently wear skirts—but they’re not rules, they’re just preferences. I think that’s the fun of it: everyone gets to create their own.”

What is one item that each of the girls can’t live without? “Both of them, hoodies. Ilana, any kind of bra: colorful, strappy, a bra that shows, a bra that supports. And Abbi can’t live without cropped, skinny jeans: a classic staple jean you can dress up and down.”

What are the girls’ go-to retailers? “I would say Ilana would be Urban OutfittersAmerican Apparel, and Forever 21 with little touches of smaller New York and Brooklyn-based brands. Abbi is more of H&MAritziaMadewell, a little bit of Uniqlo, and a little bit of Free People.”

How else does New York impact their wardrobes? “New York is a very vibrant and colorful place, and being the backdrop and the third main character gives them the opportunity to really have no boundaries. New York is the best, but there are also some realistic things that come along with that. There’s a lot of practicality that’s involved—it’s not easy to take public transportation from Queens to Brooklyn—but there’s also a lot of playfulness: in New York, anything goes.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to be just as fun and fearless with their own wardrobes? “Don’t hold back. It’s really about exploring and working with what you have, trying something new, and accepting that it’s okay if it’s not right. I mean, that’s really the beauty of fashion and what we like to do on the show: the girls don’t always get it right, but there’s still something very human and wonderful about that. Just trying something that’s out of your comfort zone can sometimes be very liberating. You can do crazy things, even if you’re not in New York. It says a lot about who you are, and it’s okay for it to say one thing one day and something completely different the next—that’s the best part about it: that you get to change your clothes.”