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how the light

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Pat's poem, Barry Moser's illustration. Proceeds to AWA outreach. For the text of the poem, click here.

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Pat’s Blog

Dear friends and companions,

I am honored to have been asked to lead one component of an on-line retreat that promises to be rich with opportunities to go inward artistically and/or spiritually, guided by leaders of various paths toward pilgrimage and wholeness.

Here is how Elizabeth Foley, creator of The Art of Spiritual Living Online Retreat, explains it:

“Spirituality doesn’t have to just be something for Ashrams or vacations to Bali. We can make it part of our every day life.
The Art of Spiritual Living Online Retreat makes it easy for you to retreat from the comfort and convenience of your own home.
It’s completely free and you can do it on your own schedule after the kids have gone to bed or on the weekend when you finally have time to slow down.
This is for you if:

• You are an artist, writer, or musician that’s feeling blocked and you want to get your creative juices flowing again.
•You have always wanted to explore creativity, yoga, or meditation but haven’t really known where to start or thought you weren’t (insert whatever doubt or lack of qualification you’re concerned about here) enough to do it.
•You have been walking a spiritual path for sometime and you know community and support will help deepen your practice.

During the online retreat, join visionaries from around the world in exploring what spirituality means to them. 25+ guides will be sharing a variety of ways that you can experience your connection to Source and integrate that connection into your everyday life.
We’ll practice conscious movement from yoga to qi gong. We’ll experience guided meditations and visualizations. We’ll explore writing and art as spiritual practice. We’ll tap into our personal power.
Every experience is designed to be completely accessible to a beginner while still being engaging and nourishing to a seasoned spiritual seeker.”

My portion of the retreat will consider writing as a spiritual practice, based on my Oxford University Press book, How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice. It is my hope that you will consider participating in this free online retreat, and pass the word to others who might be interested.

Click here to join us or to learn more about the retreat.

With best wishes,

Pat Schneider

P.S. The retreat began on Sunday July 23rd, but you don’t have to miss anything. By opting in participants will receive daily email with links to the day’s sessions and the schedule page where they can watch any of the sessions that have already aired. Sessions will air July 23rd – July 30th and be available for viewing until the full moon August 7th.

I am thinking these days about publishing, and my current mentor is “The Little Red Hen.” Listen up, girls and boys. You never get too old to have new understandings.  I’ll be 83 in a couple of weeks (how did this happen!!??), and so I know whereof I speak.  The Little Red Hen is teaching me something important.  For those of you too young to know her, she is the star of an old English or Russian folk tale, first published as a “Golden Book” on October 1, 1942, when I was eight years old.  I think she has always been important to me, but my clearest memories of her are of reading her story to my children. The Little Red Hen is quite elderly now.  No telling when she was born into folklore!  More about her later.

I have just finished a manuscript of a new book of poems – my sixth, all five before this one published in the small press that I founded, Amherst Writers & Artists Press.  I didn’t intend to found a press, but there was a young poet in one of my writing workshops who was writing amazing, brilliant poems, but very great trouble was going on in her life and I feared that she might kill herself.  I watched her sit in my rocking chair writing to the rhythm of her rocking, and I was frightened for her.  One evening when she was absent, I asked in the workshop if any of the participants knew where I could get money enough to publish a book of her poems, thinking maybe that would balance all the troubles she was facing, and help her want to live.  One of the women gave me enough money to do two chapbooks, and so we published chapbooks by two women, and voila! Amherst Writers & Artists Press was born. (And the rocking chair poet is alive and well!) Now, all these years later, we have published forty books, and have more waiting publication.  Five of those have been my own books.

As I was putting last touches on my new manuscript, The Weight of Love, getting it ready to send off to a large publisher in New York City, I realized that I have never done this before.  I’ve sent poems to journals and magazines, I’ve even entered a few contests, but I’ve never, ever, sent a book manuscript to anyone.  Why? I asked myself.  Instantly I knew the answer:  all my life, since I wrote my first poems at age ten, what I have wanted to be was a poet.  I didn’t dream of being a teacher, or an editor, or a writer of books to help others write.  I wanted to be a poet. I endured (and still do!) the inevitable fifteen or more rejections for every acceptance by journals and magazines, but I was afraid that the poet in me would not survive the rejection of a whole book of my poems. So I never tried.

Now I have finished a new book, poems that I believe are the best I’ve ever written, and in waddles The Little Red Hen.  She doesn’t look a day older than when I first met her seventy some years ago.  Same perky tail feathers, same bright eye.  She finds a grain of wheat and goes asking other animals in the barnyard who will help her plant the seed, grow the harvest, grind the flour to make a cake, bake it, frost it and decorate it.  The answer to each question, by each animal, is “Not I.”  And each time, The Little Red Hen says, “I will, then.”  Finally the cake is done.  It is beautiful.  It is a masterpiece.  And she asks who would like to help her eat it.  They all volunteer their help.  And she says, “I will.” And she does.

I have sent off my book.  I have done my homework.  I have been rejected and accepted by journals, I have published five books of my own poems, and now I am a mentee of The Little Red Hen.  I am asking, “Who will publish my book?”  If they all say “No,”  I will say, “I will do it, then.”  And I will.

The moral of the story is obvious.  For all the things we mourn about publishing these days (the loss of local bookstores, “fake news” of the death of books, etc., etc.) there are a few good things.  Self-publishing is no longer considered bad taste.  We can do this; it is good for us to have our work honored by our friends and neighbors, good for us to do it ourselves.  It is good for us and for others when small groups of writers form their own presses and publish one another’s work.  The old system that claimed being a writer depended upon publication by an established press – is dead.  Publication is available; by shopping around, one can individually have book excellently, beautifully published  — only a few copies, or a great number, at very modest cost.  Send your manuscript off and ask, but don’t stop there.  When you get tired of the answer, “Not I,” perk up your feathers, put the gleam back in your eye, and say, “I will do it then.”

Pat with daughter Bethany and granddaughter Sarah

Dear travelers with me,

some months ago I wrote this letter to a friend, and today she sent it back to me, thanking me for it. Day before yesterday was the Women’s March  – so now I tinker with my letter, update it, and offer it to you.  My own tradition is Christian – those of you who have read my books know my struggle with my tradition – here that struggle with its problems and its strengths are clearly visible:

A lot of years ago, as my daughter, Laurel, who is a theologian and author of some amazing books of theology, (Beyond Monotheism; Awake to the Moment) was washing dishes and I was drying, she said, “Oh, Mom, by the way — some young feminists are saying the gospel of John may have been written by a woman.”

I laid down the towel and without a word went into the front room, closed the door, sat down on the couch and sobbed those deep, racking sobs that come up very seldom and usually from a place within us of which we are not fully aware.  It would take too many paragraphs to adequately tell what the gospel of John meant to me.  Let it suffice to say that almost, if not all, of the tender stories of Jesus and women are in it, and I spent two years once teaching from it, one verse at a time, researching what history I could related to that verse in preparation for the next Sunday morning class.

Nothing like those moments with Laurel has happened since.

Until the night recently when our friend, Emily Savin sat between Peter and me on the couch in the living room and played from YouTube for us the twenty-third Psalm by Bobby McFerrin.  To hear this gentle, sweet coming to the words “mother and daughter” simply broke open some place in myself I didn’t even know existed.  Again, I was reduced to sobs.  Only later, only in the days and the events that have wracked our nation and our world, have I come to understand the feelings that those two events brought to my awareness.

This morning I read in the New York Times a careful and caring response to the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday – but I do not agree with it. It said, in essence, that marching makes us feel good but doesn’t change  a thing.

Wrong.  It does change something.

I am full of hope, my sisters and brothers.  I believe that Donald Trump has ripped open and made visible, as no one before him has, the ugly truth about the forever place women have lived in — less than, second to, touched where we don’t want to be touched, told as I was told in graduate school that I could not get the degree I wanted “because unfortunately you are a woman” and I didn’t even feel any anger —just soggy disappointment because that was the way the world was.

“Mother” and “daughter,” Bobby McFerrin sings. And I remember Jesus kneeling beside the woman about to be stoned, writing in the sand with his finger.

Let us write, my sisters.  Let us speak and write and sing the truth of our lives, and let us have hope because so many good men marched with their women, so many good men are seeing for the first time, understanding for the first time, how it might feel as it felt when I was twelve years old, riding by myself on a Greyhound bus on an inside seat, when all at once a finger began moving up and down my leg.   It was 1946.  I never until now told anyone about that moment.  Why should I?  That’s just the way the world was for women. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever.

The Women’s March does change something.  It has changed something in this one old woman’s heart and mind.  I will write.  I will write to my senators and representatives as I never have before. And I will continue to write the truth of my own life.  Poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

Here is Bobby McFerrin, singing a deep truth of our lives:

In this season of great fear and danger, when wars and rumors of wars clash against our consciousness, it seems to me that we must do two things: commit ourselves to action toward peace and justice in every way possible to us, – and find in the small things, the tender things, the quiet things, meaning and patience and hope.
I do hold the hope and the belief that we are not alone in this universe. Although it is beyond my understanding or ability to name, I do experience what the ancient Hebrew poet expressed: Underneath are the everlasting arms.
I offer this new poem as a year’s end gift:


Snow fall
and all

the seeds
the birds feed on

Tiny, earnest
air full flakes

cover the hand
that spreads
more seeds.

Mercy and woe
world sized

Around us
always the fall

and the hand
offering more.

Pat Schneider

I was asked to write the introduction to a book of writings by 50 homeless and recently homeless women writing together at Mary’s Place in Seattle, WA. They use the method described in my book, Writing Alone & With Others, Oxford University Press.

This may be the best statement I have ever drafted of the work we do in Amherst Writers & Artists, and why we do it. The essay is here adapted for Anchor Magazine. Please click the link to read it online.

Original Voices essay w

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I’m delighted that my poem “The Patience of Ordinary Things” has just been published in Anchor Magazine accompanied by Fanny Rush’s stunning painting. (Please click on the link above or the painting below to see it).

Window - Summer Morning - Dorset by Fanny Rush Oil on Canvas, 67cm x 67cm

Window – Summer Morning – Dorset by Fanny Rush
Oil on Canvas, 67cm x 67cm

I’m in love with Fanny and her work. You can see more at Continue reading

Elizabeth (Bye) Berryhill, 1920-2002

Elizabeth (Bye) Berryhill, 1920-2002

Written by Pat Schneider shortly before Elizabeth’s death.
I sit at her old desk, my laptop computer awkward between antique lamps. For me, this is a holy place, because it is a place of my own origin. A part of me was born here, raised here.  The part of me that became the adult, separate me.  The part of me that first believed I might become an artist with words.  The part of me that became a woman in the world, rather than a girl from a tenement.

I am sitting in Bye’s desk chair. Before me are two shelves – a bookcase made to fit the desk. The back of the big desk and the two shelves are stacked with orderly boxes, notebooks, envelopes clipped to box edges.  There are cans full of Number 2 pencils, and looking at them I remember Bye, one foot up on a low stage, another foot bearing her weight on the theatre floor, a pencil held poised above the clipboard on her knee, her face intent in thought as she looks into the space of the stage.

The pencil was her tool of choice. All around me are pencilled notes to herself, but among them, on a big bulletin board, there is a three-by-five card with a typed quote that I sent her.  I know this because she has penciled in a corner, “From Pat Schneider c. July 9, 1987.”  It is by Rainer Maria Rilke:

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Our house in summer.

Our house in summer.

Today is my birthday. For the eighty-first time, June 1, 1934 to June 1, 2015. Eighty-one birthdays. I want to give to you, my reader, a birthday gift.

This birthday is one of the best. For one thing, 81 is far less disturbing an idea than 80. 80 was O.M.G. terrifying. 81 is just more of the same. Cool – I’m “in my eighties.” No longer a stone of stumbling – more like bedrock.

Yesterday, the last day of May, Becca, my first-born, and her husband, Will came. In a day of occasional rain-showers, Becca and I worked in the flower beds around this old house. Gardening in the rain – it was purely delicious. Of course I mostly had to stand and supervise because of my left hip’s tendency to disconnect. She had the fun of getting mud all over herself. After this year’s long, merciless winter, we were surrounded by the green of spruce and maple, the white of peony and Japanese dogwood, and the yellow of iris and baby marigolds. Continue reading

Beginning Thursday June 4, Sue Reynolds and I will be leading a combined SoulCollage and writing retreat in Amherst. I asked her to write a guest blog on my site this month to explain SoulCollage a little bit, because it can be difficult to understand if you haven’t done it for yourself.


I am the one who decends to the depths seeking my treasure
“I am the one who goes into the depths to retrieve treasure.”

A Guest Blog by Sue Reynolds

When Pat offered to let me write a guest blog on her site, I was delighted to share a little of the SoulCollage® process.

This card pictured to the left may be my favourite, of all the many (over 200!) I have created over the years.

It’s called “The Depth Seeker” and my journal entry around this begins: “I am the one who goes into the depths seeking my treasure.” This defines the work we do as writers and artists.

The cavernous background conveys the vastness of those depths. This isn’t about going down a narrow well and climbing back out again immediately. This is about descending into and investigating a whole other world. Continue reading

Pat writing at Quabbin Reservoir wOnce, in a poem, I wrote “There is another way / to enter an apple. / A worm’s way.”  I am finding another way to enter my writing.  It allows me to go inside, through a door I didn’t even know was there, have a fresh experience, savor a new and delicious taste, surprise myself.

Sometimes something goes “bump” in the mind.   A hint, a tease, or an outright “smack upside the head” when you are trying with all your might to get into your writing.  It takes practice to learn the difference between the inner chatter of writer’s block, and the gentle nudge of an idea trying to get in. The chatter is just annoying distraction. The nudge is a gift.  Some writers call a magical moment of inspiration “the muse.”  I like better the way Goethe understood it.  He said, “When one is fully committed, Providence moves, too.”  Some writers claim they receive dictation from some source beyond themselves. I have never felt that, although frequently I do feel assisted — by “Providence” or whatever — but only when I am in need, fully committed, and paying attention.

Life is crowded.  I got up at 4:30 this morning to answer email that had piled up — more than 130 unanswered messages.  Then, sleep deprived and groggy, I turned to my necessary writing task – to create a blog entry inviting readers to come to a workshop I will be leading with Sue Reynolds.  I got a cup of coffee, curled up on the couch with my computer, and got nothing.  Nada! I wanted to say something about the relation between visual and written art. Something about pictures and writing.  But what?  What? Continue reading


Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.