The Writer’s Way

 

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My higher education began in London in the 60’s. I’d fled Montreal because the code of behavior was parochial & confining, because I knew instinctively there was no one set of values that was intrinsically right. At least that’s what I hoped.


Disguised as a broadcast journalist for the CBC, my need to know propelled me through Europe, Africa & the Middle East. A tape recorder gave me access to the human struggle that lay beneath convention. In England I coaxed personal stories from aristocrats, artists & musicians. I interviewed ex-patriots, immigrants, people like myself who had chosen or been forced to rebel. I helped start the Black Power Movement. In India, I made a film on Ravi Shankar.


    Experience opened my mind but the reality underneath felt sparse. I had no roots, no place I could call home. I decided on New York, & once again found myself in the right place at the right time. The City shone, the human potential movement was in full swing. I refocused on the raw spots in my own psyche. I rented an apartment, sent for my cats, took a job on Madison Avenue to prepare for a career in film. I was still innocent. I had faith in plans.


On location in Los Angeles, fate redirected me to a man with a big heart, an infectious grin & a genius for music. We fell in love. Without a backward glance I packed up & crossed the country to join him. Tucked away in the hills we wrote songs & operas, brought up his child. I surrendered greedily to the tasks of daily life, to a visit from happiness. But fate wasn’t done with me. It ended a few years later on Labor Day weekend. The impact, they told me, threw him five feet in the air. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.


Leonard Cohen, my oldest friend, found his way to my side. “Welcome to life,” he said softly.  “Come to Mount Baldy & sit with Roshi. It’s perfect for you, it’s for the truly lost.” Only from him could these words be consoling. In time, Buddhist practice will bring me closer to peace, but not yet. I wasn’t ready.


        Alone with two cats, few friends & less hope, I began writing my story. A story of life, love, & loss. One word, one detail at a time, I wrote every day for five years. I had no idea where I was going or why - what, if anything, it would achieve. I only knew that I had to. Working first with a pencil, then a pen, then a second-hand typewriter, the story that threatened to rip me apart gave me the strength to go on. I watched, fascinated, as my writing evolved, as my interest in each sentence lifted me beyond the pull of grief. Page by page, writing returned to me the spirit, if not the life I had lost, gave me a home beyond the arid landscape that had consumed me. 


        Eventually, when I remembered how to smile, when a kind word assured me that love, in some form, had survived, I knew it was time to pass on what I had learned. My life in the fast lane was over. I wanted to help others use their own experience as material, to translate onto the page a scrap of story that rang with truth. I wanted to help them write. That was over 25 years ago. It’s how the writing groups began. It was as if everything I’d ever done had prepared me.


Today the process is just as fresh, exciting & addictive as it was when we began. We laugh, we cry, the quality of writing soars. In workshops all over the country, I’ve experienced a profound sense of joy watching people change – not only in their writing, but in their lives. There’s no simple explanation for what happens when we meet. It’s an alchemy that ennobles experience, all of it, transforms it into art. I know, I’ve been there. It saved my life.

Writer, lyricist, journalist, filmmaker,

editor of Leonard Cohen’s anthology “Stranger Music”,

producer of the award-winning film, “Raga”

starring Ravi Shankar & George Harrison.


She has established & conducted creative writing

workshops in New York, Alaska, Hawaii & Marin County.  Currently, she leads annual seminars at Esalen Institute & weekly, on-going writing workshops in Los Angeles.


Nancy has inspired hundreds of writers. She brings to each group, each individual, each piece, a lifetime of experience studying, writing & guiding people through the alchemy of personal story.


She is currently writing a memoir.