When I’m lost or troubled, I read fewer blogs and more books, real books, the kind you can hold and take notes from. The more rattled and scattered I am, the more I crave books about creativity and writing, especially those written by poets about poetry. The process of reading and note-taking calms me. Because they invoke all kinds of connection and contemplative practice, good books about writing are really guides to leading a more engaged life, inspiring us to distill the essence of our experience so we can share it creatively, and, if we’re lucky, connect with the hearts and minds of those we we long to reach.

Last week, I grabbed a pen and a notebook and re-read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. It’s so much more than a book about understanding poetry; it’s a rallying call to experience life like a poet, to create something that has the power to change lives.

“A mind that is lively and enquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision – a faith, to use an old fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”

(Mary Oliver, from A Poetry Handbook)

Jotting down excerpts from A Poetry Handbook was a delight. Today’s post from the archives is an old article from my Coaching Moments column, but one I hope you’ll resonate with; I don’t know anyone who visits here who isn’t a life-cherisher, a capturer and framer of moments, a wordsmith or an artist.

Treasure Hunting

As a writer, you should have a sticky soul; the act of continually taking things in should be as much a part of you as your hair color. ~ Elizabeth Berg

I’m a quote-hunter, an unashamed gatherer of quotes. Capturing the words that resonate with me is like gathering wild berries, nuts and seeds, windfalls of fruit – food for thought.

Some stand out from the page or computer screen like the flash of a robin in a winter bush. Others are a rainbow of satin ribbons, waiting to be the right words to wrap around a bouquet of thoughts or to become the bow that sets off a simply wrapped sentiment. Then there’s the unexpected treasure, precious gems that dazzle with their brilliance. I keep them somewhere safe so that I can bring them out later, like a child fingering treasures wrapped in a handkerchief, hoping to find a special friend to show them to, someone who will understand.

I never go outCigdem Kobu's Ram Dass quote without a pen, a notebook and a book to read. When I read a book with a ‘quotebook’ and a pen handy, it’s a signal I send to myself and to the universe. It says “I’m open. I expect nothing, but I’m prepared to be moved, enlightened or entertained. I’m a student, ready and willing to learn from the lives and the wisdom of others.”

In my Filofax, stuck on the fridge, pinned to my pinboard and incorporated into my art work, albums and blog, quotes serve as flashes of inspiration, mini mission statements and signposts to keep me on track. Dead poets become heroes, strangers become mentors.

I use a different instinct, a different skill when I capture a quote. In many ways, it’s like the honing in and the active listening I do as a coach.

Finding the perfect quote that illustrates several sentiments or pulls together a complex train of thought is similar to recognising an Aha! moment in a coaching session. It’s synchronicity’s way of helping us focus and pay attention.

Our first instincts are often the ones that bypass our censors and cruel inner critics which is why many quotes become deeply personal and precious to us. They’re like messages sent from our own souls. Every time you choose a quote that resonates with you, don’t stop to ask why; just write it down and keep it safe. Quotes are like photographs, snapshots of who you are, who you were. They’re music that moves you, lyrics that leave you scarred. They’re memories of a moment when you came upon someone else’s words and felt connected, not only to another human being, but to the moment, the thought and the feeling that overflowed from them and cried out to be heard. The ‘Me too!!’ or  ‘That’s it exactly!!’ moment.

It’s our unique life experience and how we channel, choose and arrange the moments, the music and the words that makes us writers, creating collages that turn our lives into works of art.

Learning to resonate with those moments strengthens the treasure-hunting in our coaching sessions; those repeating words that draw our attention, those powerful silences when our clients connect to an answer nestling patiently in their souls, waiting to rise and take flight – they’re the gems.

I never know how my words will affect others but I do know that my best coaching happens and my best pieces write themselves in the moments when I’m most alive, aware and open. Some moments of clarity or emotion are so powerful they brim up and overflow and make me feel that if I don’t channel them into words, control them and create something from them that I will drown or that something very precious, something vital will be washed away and lost. When I sit down to recreate those moments, I feel like my whole life, everything I know and everything I am is a prism being used to refract the light of a message coming, quite simply, from somewhere else.

When I coach well, I feel the same connection.

Know then, that if anything I ever write affects, moves, touches or supports you, it was meant for you, sent from somewhere that neither of us can fully comprehend. I’m happy to be the messenger.


    1. Thank you, Barbra. I owe you so much for always believing in me, my writing and my coaching. I can’t write pieces like those any more, but I’m trying not to let the sadness of that realisation suck me slowly down into quicksand. So I’m reading, blogging, tweeting – wordloving – and opening myself up to other folks’ creativity and kindness, hoping that spring will get me back out into the world and communing. That’s when the writing happens. I’ve left all channels open, but it feels like I’m not tuned in to the right frequencies yet.

  1. Janice, we have a love of quotes in common. Each week since I started blogging, I post a different quote and my interpretation of it. That’s a lot of quotes and I’m still finding new ones all the time. I love how you describe quotes, how you feel and what you see and hear. Many times finding the right quote completes our own thought process. Yes, that is what I was trying to say!
    Linda recently posted…Quote of the WeekMy Profile

    1. Hi Linda,
      I wish I’d done what you did, and posted quote pieces regularly; that way I’d have kept things simple and inviting and not overwhelmed myself or bogged down my readers. I originally had a quote rotator in my blog, where quotes gently appeared, one at a time, just long enough for someone to read one and get a little breath of synchronicity, but I spent so long procrastinating over which ones to add (I have a bag with thousands of paper quotes and a stack of notebooks as well as files on my computer) that it fried my brain just entering them all. But if I’d done it weekly, there would have been 312 of my favourites in there, 2,190 if I’d done one a day.

      When I came back online after my first big cyber hibernation, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook had taken off and you could also tweet photos; there are beautiful quotes on stunning pictures everywhere now. Sites that send you poems daily, quotes daily, poems on photos… but like you, I enjoy a quieter pace. I like when quotes trigger or become the core of a piece or when a piece cries out to be ribboned – finished off with a quote. I like to hear commenters’ responses to quotes, to learn which, if any, spoke to them and why.

      Thank you for visiting – I appreciate it. It’s been pretty lonely over here lately. The quote that’s kept me going this last month?

      Be yourself; everyone else is taken. ~ Oscar Wild

  2. Janice,

    Well, it like coming for tea with friends when I visit your site. Linda is one my favorites and I visit her blog regularly — when not captivated by a story, like the one I’m been working on. You’ll love Linda’s take on quotes:~)

    I don’t really collect quotes on a regular basis, but I save ones that really hit me and, like you said, these stay with me. I often put them on computer-generated sticky notes on my desktop so I can see them every day. One of my favorites came from Linda’s site. Here it is:

    “On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%…and that’s pretty good.” – Unknown.

    Obviously, humor plays a big role for me in quotes and in encouragement:~)

    It is lovely to see your words again. I’d love to see some of your poems, if you reach a point of sharing them. BTW I don’t really write too much poetry, but one of my daughters does — it’s the way she journals. I love this idea!
    Sara recently posted…Nature Nurtures HopeMy Profile

  3. Hi Sara! We really miss tea and cake and you over at your place, but I’m glad to hear you’re “captivated” by the story you’re working on; that’s a good place to be! Like you, I enjoy seeing familar faces in the places I visit, getting to know folk as they leave wee bits of themselves in the boxes below; I also enjoy clicking on their commenters to broaden my horizons.

    That quote of Linda’s is a goodun – just what I needed to read – 0h, the joys of synchronicity! I often do what your daughter does, journal the essence of things. I call mine word sketches because they don’t have the depth or intense layers of meaning a poem has, or fit the many, many rules of what makes a purist haiku or tanka. There are a few scattered through the blog, but I’ll maybe gather them and give them a new category seeing as I’ve been shrinking and reorganising my archives, categories, navigation bar and sidebars. Here’s one that was a journal entry on holiday in Greece.

    a warm wind rises
    whipping up dust
    and dried leaves

    sun umbrellas flap
    a loose shutter bangs

    the trill and pulse of cricket chirping slows
    to silence
    in the olive groves
    before the skies

    And here’s one that was a word sketch, but every time I read it, it reveals more layers and feels like I should promote it to ‘poem’. No doubt the purists would disagree.

    a white feather
    surfs slowly down
    to join
    the others

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