For many many years, I’ve been fortunate enough to practice something called Wild Writing with Laurie Wagner. Each Friday morning when we’re in session I pack up my notebook and drive to Lauri’s house where myself and a cohort of other women gather around her dining room table and spend two hours in practice.
I wish every woman in every community had a regular Wild Writing group. It feeds such a potent mix of hungers. The hunger for connection, for truth, for hearing your own voice, for laughter, for space and slowing down, for time away from screens, for emotional release, for permission to be imperfect, for inspiration and new discovery. For me, it’s often been a powerful support to my mental health. I could go on and on.
For a long time I felt the call to lead my own group in my own version of this practice and so last year I finally did.
I called it Sift: a writing practice for being human. Though the subtitle should probably be “a practice for being human together through writing” but that’s a mouthful and well, semantics!
And for six weeks in 2017, myself and a table full of brave women met weekly and let this practice feed us. Then I did it again at the start of this year and for the past eight weeks hosting and participating in this practice has been one of the keys to my well-fed life.
And I’m doing it AGAIN…
I’m hosting another 8-session in-person group AND, for the first time, I’m offering this practice virtually.
Let’s start with an overview of what Sift is:
This is a practice. Like yoga or painting, it’s about showing up and being willing meet yourself where you are.
This is not for people who want to be better writers (though you can want that too), it’s not for professional writers (though you can be that too), it’s not really about the writing at all. It’s about what the practice helps us access and about doing it together. You need no prior experience to participate. Just a willingness to show up and be honest.
Personally, I practice to tell the truth, to be human with other humans, to hear my stories, to make sense of myself and the world around me, to make space for my contradictions, to find the words, to reveal, to relax, and to be a little messy.
The practice essentially goes like this:
You arrive. Settle in. We do a little warming up and then I read a poem and when I’m done I pick a line or two from the poem for us to use as our writing prompt.
Then we’ll write, unedited, pen to paper, not stopping for 10 to 20 minutes. We don’t try to sound smart. We don’t try to write well. This practice serves to help us get around our perfectionist and performer. This practice helps us tell the truth on the page so we can tell the truth in the rest of our lives.
When the time is up we go around the table (myself included) and read our writing. No feedback is given. We don’t discuss what’s written. We just witness each other. Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes there are tears. Most of the time there are nodding heads. It’s all welcome. Then we repeat.
If it sounds simple, it is. It’s also profound.
If it sounds exhilarating but also scary. You’re not alone.
If it sounds fun and nourishing, it is!
If this calls to you, raise your hand.
What a few past participants had to say…
“Sitting at the table with a group of thoughtful women is my weekly retreat. And I mean that in the most sacred, spacious, nurturing way. Rachel offers a gentle invitation and I get to set aside my to-do lists, relentless perfectionism and over functioning ways to be guided into JUST BEING with words and the wisdom that pours onto the page. For two hours, I don’t need to control anything. I don’t need to be clever. I get to show up and be present to a circle of women who are present to me, too. When the time comes to return to the lists and obligations, I do so with a profound sense of restoration and renewal.”
“I signed up for Sift not knowing what to expect but with the intent to challenge myself (and with a dash of inner-critic fear). Rachel’s outline of the program doesn’t do justice to the experience of being in it. It’s like a weekly meeting with myself, sometimes a time to release and be playful, sometimes a line into something deeper. I enjoy the process, which naturally facilities presence, and it’s been an honor to sit in communion with other women and to hear the stories they choose to share. Perhaps the best thing about Sift is it’s without expectation and judgment, truly. I can flow into and float out of our weekly sessions.”
“I love Sift for bringing together an amazing group of women. The structure is helpful for introverts like me (not a lot of small talks). This group has been incredibly helpful and supportive for helping me process some difficult life events as well as finding my voice. Rachel is offering a beautiful gift to the world!”
How to Participate
Where: My home in Oakland, California near the Oakland Zoo.
Time: 10 am-noon on Wednesdays
Dates: 3/38, 4/4, 4/11, 4/25, 5/2, 5/23, 5/30, 6/6 (Note: these are not all consecutive)
Cost: $300, nonrefundable.
Space: I have one space at the table remaining as of 3/14.
Deadline to apply: March 23rd. Filled on first-apply basis.
To join: Email me!
Where: We’ll meet via the free Zoom video conferencing platform.
Time: 10 am-noon, Pacific time zone, on Mondays
Dates: 4/2, 4/9, 4/30, 5/7, 5/21, 5/28, 6/4, 6/11 (Note: these are not all consecutive)
Cost: $300, nonrefundable.
Space: I have space for six participants.
Deadline to apply: March 30th. Filled on first-apply basis.
To join: Email me!
I’m not a writer. In fact, I’m a terrible writer, but I feel called to this practice. What should I do?
Let me reiterate that this is not a practice for people who identify as writers or ‘good’ writers, though they are welcome too. This is a practice that using writing to support us in being more at ease being human and for that, you need no skill or title.
I’m traveling for some of the dates listed, can I still join?
Participants must pay in full but life happens and it’s okay to miss a few sessions due to scheduling conflicts.
I have a question you didn’t answer on this page.
Please email me!
A few weekends ago during the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award and like many people I was moved to tears by her speech. I knew I was witnessing one of the truly great women leaders of my lifetime offer us a rallying cry of hope and power.
I also knew I was witnessing a woman who many people have placed on a pedestal and toward whom criticism is sometimes seen as blasphemy. The last time I offered a public critique of Oprah I was surprised to see how many people unfollowed and even attacked me.
It’s imperative that we stop viewing our leaders with an all or nothing lens. They are neither saints nor sinners. They are humans, complex, and full of contradictions and blind spots — just like you and me.
Listen, I have blind spots. Lots of them. I mess up and speak out of cis-gendered, able-bodied, hetero, white privilege and ignorance all the time. Blind spots are not something any of us can pretend to be free from. We can only work with them to reduce the fog and shine a brighter light on the places we’re not seeing clearly.
And diet culture is inherently anti-feminist. Diet culture is a patriarchal tool, or rather a weapon used to keep women from their full power.
Thus, it is imperative we call in (or out) the leaders of the women’s movement who perpetuate diet culture and Oprah Winfrey is the most prominent person who fits this bill. I am not tearing Oprah down. I am not throwing Oprah and all her good deeds away. I am calling Oprah out where it is necessary while also still acknowledging the enormous positive impact she has had on the lives of women.
If you ever feel guilty for what you eat, find yourself eating in a way that feels out of control, find yourself limiting when/when/how much you eat in a way that helps you feel calm or powerful — you have diet culture to thank.
If you don’t feel at ease around food. If you feel like you need to keep a close eye on what you eat, even counting points or calories. If you are afraid to eat entire food groups. If you spend more time thinking about food than you do your relationships or life dreams. If you spend more time thinking about food then you do enjoying food or your life. You have diet culture to thank.
If you find yourself going round and round the dieting merry-go-round (on the diet, off the diet, blame self for ‘failure’, on the diet, off the diet, blame self for ‘failure’) you have diet culture to thank.
If you have spent years trying to lose weight only to end up weighing more than when you started. You have diet culture to thank.
If your day can be made better or worse depending on the scale, you have diet culture to thank.
If you ever feel like you have to earn what you eat by exercising more, you have diet culture to thank.
Does some of what I’ve just described sound benign, even normal? Thanks, diet culture.
These are just some of the many ways the diet culture has seeped into our everyday lives. This is what we’re sold and this is a load of poisonous bullshit.
Diets are proven not to result in long-term weight-loss or improved health and for a women’s leader to not only promote but profit from, this is not okay. Diets suck energy, time, and financial resources away from women.
It should be said that it is one thing to be on a diet. It’s one thing to be on a diet and share about your experience on your talk show. It’s one thing fall victim to the siren call of weight loss and portion control. I have all the compassion in the world for dieters. If you are on a diet or find yourself this New Year feeling the urge to get back on the merry-go-round I have no judgment of you. None. Billions of dollars are being spent each year to reenlist you.
However, with great power comes great responsibility and the pass I gave Oprah all the years she was dieting doesn’t stand now that she holds a 10% stake in and is the face of one of the biggest dieting empires. As I said, it’s one thing to be on a diet, but it’s another thing to sell dieting. It’s another thing entirely to go from drug user to drug dealer.
Oprah is wonderful, brilliant, and has made the world a better place. No question.
And Oprah and every other women’s leader who fails to incorporate an anti-diet, body liberation stance into her feminism and activism is failing women in this way.
Let’s ditch the black and white thinking, let’s stop with the hero worship and let’s not be afraid to make the downfall of diet culture a feminist issue because it is.
If you’re a feminist who wants to have an empowered relationship with your food and your body join me for this upcoming round of Feast, my masterclass for women who are seeking to be free and well-fed. The deadline to apply is fast approaching.