Puzzle Pieces: An Interview with Glennon Doyle Melton

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The first time I met Glennon Doyle Melton, I was wearing pink Tinkerbell pajamas. My hair was a rat’s nest, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and I’m pretty sure my eyes were red and puffy from crying—it’s not unlikely. I was exhausted, overextended, and overwhelmed. On this particular day, I had the house to myself, so there was ample time to get caught up on my studies and housework, but instead, tucked away in my office with a bag of plain M&M’s, I scrolled through Amazon for something to read. Crunch, chomp, munch. Red, yellow, blue. A bright book jacket rolled across the screen:

Carry On, Warrior.

It spoke to me. Three days later, by way of modern magic, this precious little treasure arrived at my door. Immediately, I tore open the box to flip through the pages. From the start, I was hooked. Couldn’t put it down. As I read, laughed, wept and underlined passage after passage, I felt a deep connection with Glennon, a sense that we were kindred spirits.

In Carry On, Warrior Glennon candidly discusses her history of bulimia, alcoholism, drug addiction, and the unplanned pregnancy that led her to the path of sobriety. She shares her experiences of guilt and shame, and reveals her own struggle with the pressures of parenting, “wifedom, motherhood, and sober life.” Most importantly, Glennon talks about the layers of armor we wear to protect and hide.

Several years ago, seeking to connect and touch people on a deeper level, Glennon decided to shed her armor, and what happened next is nothing short of a miracle. Through reckless truth-telling, “no mask, no hiding, no pretending,” Glennon discovered she could help others feel better about who they are just by showing them who she really is—imperfect, messy, broken.

Fiercely strong, and boldly vulnerable, Glennon is a true LOVE WARRIOR.

love warrior

(I was honoured to receive an advance copy of Glennon’s new memoir, Love Warrior, which I will write more about later. Available September 6th, 2016!!!)

Created in 2009, Momastery—Glennon’s Blog and online community—has since become a second home to a vast, diverse group of women seeking to genuinely connect. Momastery is a sacred space. A place to gather, rest and heal, give and receive love, and be part of a sisterhood who truly want the best for their families, their communities, and one another.

I visited Momastery for the first time after I’d finished reading Carry On, Warrior, because I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye. As I scrolled through post after post, one thing became very clear: I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone in my experiences, and I definitely wasn’t alone in my affection for Glennon. Not by a long shot. Her book hadn’t just spoken to me, it had spoken to countless women across the globe, and it had changed lives. In fact, Glennon’s willingness to listen to her heart and be vulnerable continues to transform lives every single day.

At Momastery—via insightful essays, the amazing work accomplished by Together Rising, as well as comments, messages, and treasured personal emails from Glennon—we are reminded, time and time again, “Life is Brutiful,” “Love Wins,” and “We Can Do Hard Things.” Through the online community she has built, women learn and grow together, challenge one another, and develop connections—as well as dreams—that go beyond the borders of Momastery. Often referred to as “Monkees,” visitors regularly meet and form friendships that provide support and encouragement through the challenges of daily life.

Many women, including myself, have been inspired by Glennon to tell our stories with far less focus on the Mask of Perfection and much more emphasis on Truth as Perfection.

Making connections is extremely important to Glennon.

I was interested to learn how she’d found her path, curious to know what inspired and guided her, what led her to create Momastery and Together Rising (formerly Monkee See-Monkee Do). So I contacted Glennon to request an interview back in November 2013, shortly after my first-ever published story, Changing My Brain, appeared in the Globe and Mail. She quickly agreed.

Caught up in an easy conversation with a woman I deeply admire, I was amazed to discover there were no uncomfortable silences between us. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Talking to Glennon felt like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages, but loved dearly.

“What do you think draws so many people to your work?” I asked.

“I guess people are drawn to me because I’m imperfect,” Glennon replied. “Life is messy, and my honesty lets others be okay with their mess, too. I don’t profess to be a teacher, just a passionate student of life, interested every day in finding one more voice, one more piece of the puzzle. I want to let people witness my life, not teach them how to live their own lives. If a blog can show that somebody messy can still have a voice, we all win.”

I agreed.

“I look at success in terms of a day instead of a life,” she explained. “Being successful involves being authentic, where time is spent equal to your values. For me, that means rest every day, write every day, spend time with my family every day. We need to base success on what we do, rather than others’ reactions. As far as worldly success goes, you never really arrive. A blog, a book, another deal—what’s next? There’s no time when it’s actually over and you can say, ‘There, that’s it, I’m done. I have arrived.’ It really is a ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ world.”

“What’s the best thing about being Glennon, right now, in this moment?”

“The hardest thing about my life before was not being sober, not really living. In my heart, I knew I could do these awesome things, but I just—wasn’t. I was envious of others who were doing things, in a way, I felt this bitterness inside because I knew life was meant to be better, that I was capable of more, but I wasn’t doing anything. But now—total flip. I can’t possibly do more and I just hope I’m capable. It’s uncomfortable in its own way, but I think it’s better to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed—I’m constantly overwhelmed now. I want to live up to the responsibility before me. Every day, I think, what should I do to make a difference? Every day, at the end of the day, I just want to have given it all away: to be spent, exhausted, happy.”

Give what you have.

Glennon lives her life by this credo.

‘Give what you have and you will get what you need’ is a lesson taught along many spiritual paths—from 12-step programs to the Native American ‘potlatch’ or ‘giveaway’—and it’s one that she practices with great passion and dedication. In her personal life, through Momastery, Together Rising, and other online fundraising events, such as Love Flash Mobs and Holiday Hands, Glennon generously gives what she has. Every single day.

In December 2015, Glennon joined forces with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Brené Brown (Daring Greatly), and Rob Bell (Love Wins) to create the Compassion Collective, an organization dedicated to providing relief to refugees crossing the Mediterranean from war-torn countries, such as Syria. An online event was held to raise funds. All donations were kept to a $25 maximum. In a little over 24-hours, the Compassion Collective had exceeded their target goal of one million dollars. Relief efforts have included: floodlights to light the water at night, volunteer rescuers, heaters, blankets, warm coats, food, shelter, clothing, hygiene products, strollers, baby slings, translators, doctors, and more.

Curious, I inquired, “Can you imagine doing anything else?”

Thoughtfully, Glennon answered, “No matter what, I know I’d be writing, encouraging and trying to inspire other women, and practicing some kind of spirituality, although the form changes, as I evolve. And definitely working with children.”

“Have you always known what you wanted to do with your life?” I asked. “I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but I wasted years ignoring that Little Voice Inside. I’d hear, ‘Write, write, write,’ then I’d think, ‘Oh, who’s going to care about anything I have to say, anyways?”

“It’s dangerous to go against that voice,” Glennon insisted. “Every time I did, things got harder. But I think I needed to learn that hard is purposeful, hard is okay. When you have a lack of faith in intuition, you look outward to others and feel like you don’t fit in; you hear outside words, words like “too much” and “not enough,” and you internalize them instead of trusting that inner voice. Trust that voice. Every single one of us is important, everyone has a song to share—the harmony doesn’t sound right without everyone. Use your voice.”

“I’m starting to do that,” I explained, “but it’s scary.”

“It is terrifying, but vitally important,” she insisted gently. “And that’s not just a theory. Everybody needs to use her voice, because we’re all stitched together. Someone always needs to hear what somebody else has to say. Honestly, there may be nothing new left to write about, and maybe it has all been said before a hundred times in a hundred different ways, but no one else can say it our way. Think of writing as singing the National Anthem. There are so many different versions, singers—it’s different every time—yet equally beautiful.”

“It’s also important to eradicate fear and jealousy,” my new friend advised, “and the idea that ‘they said it how I wanted to say it so now there’s nothing left for me to say. Honestly, those things are irrelevant, because we all have our own voice, our own way of articulating things. Maybe there really is nothing new to say, and maybe it all comes down to the same thing, but our version still matters. Different words have different meanings to different writers, readers, people… Remember, we don’t all order the same thing from the menu.”

“Do not judge your piece by how it’s taken by the public,” Glennon added emphatically. “Write for the sake of the process. I write because it changes me and my view of the world. In fact, I’d still be writing, even if no one ever read it. You have to do what you’d do anyway. For free. Given the choice to meet with my publicist or teach Sunday school, I’d pick Sunday school—every single time—because that’s REAL LIFE. Keeping my feet on the ground is important. The people I can touch keep me sane.”

“How do you maintain balance between your work and family life? Are there any tricks you’ve learned, any advice you can offer?” I wondered. “I struggle with that all the time.”

Glennon empathized, and regretfully informed me there’s no secret cure to Save-the-World Syndrome, as far as she knows. But after a brief discussion about mom-guilt, she admitted, “I do feel less guilty now. My girls watch me work doing things that inspire me, that I’m passionate about—instead of playing My Little Pony on the floor, or Barbies, which I really can’t stand—and so I think maybe, hopefully, one day they’ll be able to give themselves a break, too.”

As our conversation came to a close, I inquired about plans for the future. “So, what’s next?”

Glennon replied, “As the platform gets bigger, I just want to try to keep writing small, to remember that I’m not writing to the whole world, only one person. I want to keep meeting women who inspire, find new things to read every day, and just connect, because everybody has pieces of the puzzle.”

I was honoured to be included in that statement, and therein lies a very special part of Glennon’s magic. She has this incredible way of making everyone feel significant. Essential. One of her greatest gifts lies in the ability to remind us of the importance of connection, the inherent value in coming together to share ideas, information, truth, and love. Love, above all else. I hung up feeling as though I’d made a new friend. Perhaps not in the traditional sense—we may never go for coffee or hang out at the beach with our kids—but we’d connected on a soul level.

Several months later, I posted a Facebook status about a rejection letter I’d just received for something I’d submitted to a magazine. A few seconds later, a message popped up in my inbox:

“Rejection is one step closer, sister. Keep on. It is clear to me that this is the path for you. MAKTUB. Just live into it. It’s already done. All you gotta do is make sure your ass is in the chair and your fingers move. The rest will take care of itself. Love, G.”

Maktub, an Arabic word I discovered in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, expresses the idea that “it has been written by the hand of God.” While Maktub conveys a sense of fate, it also imports a sense of great responsibility, a duty to lean into your destiny. Thus, Glennon’s words held great meaning for me. Carry On, Warrior.

How does one woman be a best friend to millions? I don’t know how she does it.

I’m not sure it’s anything that can be taught, or explained, it just is. It’s a rare and beautiful quality. Glennon has a way of speaking to thousands as though she’s speaking to one. Maybe that’s the magic. The ability to regard each being as One is rooted in a powerful spirituality that involves genuine awareness and an authentic recognition of Self in Other.

Glennon makes everyone feel seen, heard, known, accepted, loved. Her vulnerability reminds us that yes, it’s hard and messy and scary to be a human being in this world, but that’s okay. We’re never alone, because we’re all alone together. Our pieces—what we have to offer the world—are what counts. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to show up every single day.

Just Show Up.

The first time I met Glennon, I was wearing pink Tinkerbell pajamas. My hair was a rat’s nest, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and my eyes were red and puffy—but you know what? I know she’d be okay with that. I really do.

 

Note: This essay is a revised, condensed, edited and updated version of a previous essay titled, “Puzzle Pieces: An Interview with Glennon Doyle Melton,” which first appeared on Living the Dream Blog, and later, on Lilacs in October.

(Photo: Amy Paulson Photography)

 

 

In Memoriam: Carolyn Smart Remembers Bronwen Wallace

Everybody wants to live forever. Failing that, most will settle for leaving their mark on the world, a footprint, something enduring that says: I was here. I did something worthwhile. And I mattered. Mothers and fathers raise their children to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. Architects build skyscrapers. Engineers design airplanes. Artists create sculptures or songs, and writers craft great works of literature, while poets enter the perfect darkness of the void, the deepest silence, for the sole purpose of illumination. In contrast to engineers who use metal and machinery in their pursuits, however, poets seek to illuminate through words and offer immortality of an entirely different nature: the elegy.

An elegy is a song or poem expressing sorrow, typically a lament for the dead, a memoriam. A way of honouring that which has come but is now gone. In words, a poet reveals her inner life: what moves and shakes her, or makes her want to break into a million tiny pieces; what she loves and what she hates; what she seeks to take from any communion with the world around her; what she wants to change; what she longs to discard, or refuses to release, and what will not loosen its ghostly grip on her. A poet writes to touch the throbbing life in our own veins. When she confronts the shadow of death, she faces her own mortality, but also becomes a witness to the life—the light—that has been lost. A poet writes, not only to preserve a memory, stored like jam on some long-forgotten shelf, but to keep the beloved alive. The poem, an elegy, becomes an Actual Thing in the World. Manifested, it lives on and on, as people can never do.

Innumerable examples exist of poets who have honoured those they’ve lost to death in verse. For the purposes of this essay, I will focus on the friendship between Canadian poets Carolyn Smart and Bronwen Wallace, and the legacy of their connection. Following Wallace’s “untimely and brutal death” of cancer in 1989 at the age of 44, Smart founded the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers with assistance from the Writer’s Trust of Canada, and released a volume of poetry, “The Way To Come Home,” which included a collection of poems written for her late friend. I cannot impress upon you enough, dear reader, the importance of friendship and sense of community between women writers, and the inherent value in the elegy form: evidence that a life—a light—continues to shine long after it has vanished from sight.

Recently, I had the good fortune to be in contact with Carolyn Smart. During our exchange, she spoke passionately about her friendship with Bronwen Wallace, and shared some deeply personal memories about their time together. It was both an honour and privilege for me, in some small way, to bear witness to the great affection between these two strong women.

“Death may indeed be the last great foe of writing, but writing is also the foe of death.” (J.M. Coetzee)

And so begins, “The Sound of the Birds,” a “moving re-creation of the painful last phase of Bronwen Wallace’s life from the perspective of one who suffered through it with her.” This particular quote by Coetzee, a South African writer, was chosen by Smart not only for its eloquence in sentiment, but also for its relevance to her own life. After a brief, six-week whirlwind courtship, Smart married the young South African man she had met on a blind date orchestrated by Wallace, much to her friend’s chagrin. Wallace, confides Smart, was distressed because she “never believed in marriage.” But, Smart adds, “She forgave me after a few weeks and was closely involved in my subsequent pregnancies and my second baby, Daniel, offered her much comfort in her last days… to include John Coetzee’s quote about death and writing made perfect sense to me: she will be remembered long after her death because of her excellent writing; she was stopped from continuing that writing by the fact of her own death.”

Carolyn Smart and Bronwen Wallace met in the early eighties at a poetry reading hosted by Wallace in Kingston, and the pair became “fast friends,” often sharing their work privately or attending public readings together. “Bronwen Wallace was my closest friend for nearly seven years,” Smart states. “Not only was she a close friend, she fulfilled many roles in my life, including mentor, editor, and role model. She was both the wisest and funniest person I knew.” Wallace, known for her “kindness, honesty, righteous anger, humour, and deep sense of social justice” was well-loved. In the final months of her illness, several women, including Smart, organized a care schedule in order to be available to help however she required.

It was during this time that Smart grew inspired by the sound of the birds outside Wallace’s home. “Three days a week I went to her house with my baby Daniel, born in April of the year she died in August,” Smart remembers. “Bronwen would be up in her room in bed, and Dan and I would spend a little time with her until she tired, which she did easily in those last weeks, and then we would sit downstairs and wait for the sound of the bell she would ring for us to return. Dan would mostly be sleeping; I would be looking out the window at the birds that came to the roof of the garage next to Bronwen’s house where her partner would throw birdseed every morning. Birds would flit here and there all day looking for food. Many of those birds, and in particular the cardinal, were my focus during those long and sad days.”

A poem titled, “Cardinal and Lunar Eclipse,” is the second in the selection dedicated to Bronwen Wallace in “The Way To Come Home,” which also includes “Owl, Loon and Thunderstorm,” “A Dream and a Turkey Vulture,” “Eastern Phoebe,” and “Cockatiel.” Beginning with the soft, full silence of friendship and one’s ability to hold space for another, Smart writes, “The red bird/and then silence, while I sat/and watched all you endured.” Throughout “Cardinal and Lunar Eclipse,” Smart bears witness to the private details of Wallace’s final moments, noting with care the failed treatments and white eyelet nightgown, the sheer terror, and the very words written in Wallace’s journal as she faced certain death, the clock on the wall, bird calls, and the red blood beneath the pale flesh at her throat.

Expanding further, Smart explains, “The cardinal’s colour is explained in the poem to match the blood that one could see building in Bronwen’s throat. I had been told a massive burst of blood would mark her death. That’s not what happened, but I was aware that it might.” Smart saw her friend’s life slip away in the darkness of a lunar eclipse. The excruciating heartache and sense of unbearable loss she felt at that moment is almost palpable as she writes, “while all others round about me/watched the marvel in space/I watched you die/gripping my baby to my chest/I let you go over and over/still breathing the possibility of a miracle.”

In, “The Sound of the Birds,” Smart includes an additional untitled poem that I will, for the purposes of this essay, refer to as “Whip-poor-will.” Whip-poor-will has two sections, each placed at either end like bookends, and reads almost like a love song. It speaks to the longing for the sounds of a friend, their particular voice, and the loss of “intimate acquaintance” through death—the deepest silence. Smart laments, “even the stars seem aloof/and you are not here, dear night bird/you are gone/the stillness is a room I’ve moved into/like the clothes I will wear/to ward off colder weather/a cape of loneliness/the dark heart of a night without song.”

Canada—truly, the world—lost an incredibly gifted writer and passionate social activist when Bronwen Wallace died, but Carolyn Smart also lost a dear friend and confidant, colleague and trusted mentor. Smart’s efforts to keep Wallace’s memory alive in her continued involvement with the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award, and through her own speaking engagements, writing, and poetry, speaks not only to the testament of friendship between these two incredibly gifted Canadian poets, but also to the unfailing support to be found within the Canadian writing community, and the deep commitment women writers often have to each other, both privately and publically.

Bronwen Wallace “wrote about ordinary women’s lives in a way that uplifted and revealed what to me had always appeared ineffable, and she appeared to do it with such ease,” Carolyn Smart confides. “She was on the verge of a massive career in literature, likely through extended fiction as well as poetry, and to see that stolen from her through a mismanaged and extremely painful illness was a heartbreak I will never recover from. I cannot NOT write about her; I cannot NOT honour the woman for whom over 800 crammed a theatre in downtown Kingston to remember and weep for her, a woman who had changed so many lives, a few days after her death in 1989.”

As both a woman and a writer, I understand this impulse, the urgency to record, honour, and remember through words. For myself, sometimes the only way out of the pain, fear, and anger involves the act of writing it out in verse. Poetry happens when pain meets pleasure, sorrow meets joy, life meets death, heart meets mind, soul meets page. It’s a language all its own, private and personal, yet simultaneously universal. A poet, sensitive to the nuances of everyday life, feels the loss of death deeply and seeks to release the dark shadows in order to reveal the light. The sense of community and friendship among women, among writers, and especially among women writers is crucial, because it is through support, encouragement, and love that we find the courage to use our voices and the strength needed to persevere.

Perhaps nobody can live forever. But I would say that, if you’re lucky enough to be loved by a writer, there is a good chance you will be immortalized in some way. For there is no other choice available, no other veritable way to heal and face the future for someone who builds their entire world on words, than to write about their love and loss.

“Some people are a country/and their deaths displace you/Everything you shared with them/reminds you of it: part of you in exile/for the rest of your life.”

(Bronwen Wallace)

Note:

The author wishes to extend a deep and heartfelt “Thank You” to Carolyn Smart for her generous and invaluable assistance with this project. Find out more about Carolyn at: http://www.library.utoronto.ca/canpoetry/smart/index.htm

*This essay first appeared on Living the Dream blog*

References:

Faulkner, Arwen. Interview with Carolyn Smart. Interview. Ottawa, 2014. Document.

Smart, Carolyn. “The Way To Come Home.” Smart, Carolyn. The Way To Come Home. London, ON: Brick Books, 1992.

Wallace, Brownen. Common Magic. Canada: Oberon Press, 1985. Book.

Youtube. Carolyn Smart on Keeping Brownwen Wallace’s Memory Alive. May 2014. Online.

VerseFest: Interview with Monty Reid

VerseFest…

is an international festival of poetry designed to showcase the diverse artistic achievement, expression and high-level activity of the vibrant poetry scene in our Nation’s Capital.

I had the privilege to speak with Canadian poet and festival director, Monty Reid, over the winter about the events at VerseFest 2015. As Managing Editor at Arc Poetry Magazine, and with more than a dozen published collections under his belt, including soon-to-be released “A Big Zoo” (BuschekBooks) and “Meditatio Placentae (Brick Books), Reid is a household name on the Canadian literary scene.

*

For centuries, poets have come together to celebrate their art through readings and festivals. Do you believe that gatherings of this nature, such as VerseFest, are important? And if so, can you explain why?

They are, and not just within artistic communities. They help build a sense of community and offer a chance to celebrate the work that gets done, often in quiet rooms, and sometimes under adverse circumstances. There’s a chance to share and learn from people you might not otherwise get a chance to meet. And they’re a way of reaching out to a broader community. All that, plus they’re fun.

I attended VerseFest for the first time last year and, while I enjoyed the unique and personal vibe of each individual performance, I also appreciated the way each blended together to create a beautifully cohesive whole. Is this difficult to accomplish, with such a wide variety of poets and performers?

Yes, we work at it. Sometimes it comes off, every now and then, it doesn’t. But even when it doesn’t, what transpires can be interesting. We’ve made a point of integrating Spoken Word and more traditional poetry into the festival. We’ve always had international guests, and this year, we’re including a strong francophone component. We’re looking at ways to incorporate an element of visual and concrete poetry into the festival as well. So we’re juggling a lot of different elements in an effort to stay fresh. That’s one reason why we’re always looking for new ideas and new volunteers.

In the past, I have observed a tangible sense of friendship and camaraderie at VerseFest and other local events. Is this typical of the Ottawa poetry scene, or even the greater Canadian poetry community, in general?

The Ottawa poetry scene is pretty remarkable. Just look at the Bywords calendar—there are events going on every night. There are long-term presences, like the International Writers Festival and Arc Poetry Magazine, and so many new micro-presses like Apt. 9, Phaphours, In/Words, and others. There’s edgy work and conservative work. There’s publishing in English and French and Spanish, as well. And, in spite of all the differences, there’s a deep sense of mutual support. This doesn’t happen everywhere. Toronto has a much bigger poetry community, for instance, but it’s more fragmented. In a smaller city like Ottawa, we all need each other to make anything work, to make our voice heard.

What are some of the performances you are most excited to see this year?

I’m excited by the whole program. It’s a deep lineup, with tremendous variety. I’m thrilled that we’ll be hosting Chilean poet Raul Zurita for his first visit to Canada. Nicole Brossard and Daphne Marlatt are on together on opening night. Armand Ruffo will be here with his Thunderbird poems and Hermenegilde Chiasson will be here from Moncton. Sheri-D Wilson and Lillian Allen will be performing. And there will be newcomers like Claire Caldwell and Stevie Howell.

Do you have any parting advice for young poets or emerging performers new to the scene?

Get to VerseFest. Eat up the variety of performances. Never be afraid of new ideas.

*

Check the website for more details: VerseFest 2015 Website.

Monty Reid:

Three-time winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, Reid won the 2007 Lampman-Scott Award for “Disappointment Island(Chaudiere Books), which was also nominated for the Ottawa Book Award, and has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry on three occasions. Extremely prolific, Reid’s work can often be found online at Dusie, Drain, and ottawater, or in print in The Malahat Review, Grain, and Prairie Fire, to name but a few. He also plays mandolin and guitar in a band called Call Me Katie.

For more info about Monty Reid, see the links below:

Brick Books (Author’s Page)

Chaudiere Books (Author’s Page)

*This post was originally published on Living the Dream blog in March 2015*