Interview: Sage Cohen
Sage Cohen is the author of two nonfiction books, The Productive Writer (reviewed on this blog yesterday, click here to read) and Writing the Life Poetic, as well as the poetry collection, Like the Heart, the World. She also writes the popular blog, The Path of Possibilities. She is one of my favourite writers and I am so happy she has stopped by to chat. Welcome Sage!
First Line (FL): Sage, I loved The Productive Writer. You are obviously a very organized writer. As I was reading it I couldn’t help but wonder if your organizational skills extend to other areas of your life, as well. Tell me the truth, does your house look like an Ikea showroom?
Sage Cohen (SC): I'm thrilled that you love The Productive Writer! Thanks for taking the time to read it and talk to me about it!
The truth: My house looks like an Ikea showroom collided with a preschool in a high-speed chase. My office, however, is a space that I still have some control over. It's my sanctuary, and I try to keep it as beautiful and orderly as I'd like my client work and creative writing practice to be.
The other truth: I know how to be an organized writer; which doesn't always translate to actually being an organized writer.
FL: I know that you are also a talented poet. Do you have a favourite word?
SC: Oh, gosh. Favourite word. That's like choosing a favourite child or animal or type of potato. I will say that every year I choose a word for the year -- one that I am curious about understanding and inhabiting. This year, I am in pursuit of: grace.
FL: What was the best advice you received as a writer?
SC: It was more like anti-advice. A world-famous poet, who also happened to be my thesis advisor, told me that the problem with my poetry was that I was good at too many things. I couldn't figure out how such feedback might actually improve my poetry manuscript -- or anything else for that matter. And, like a pebble in my shoe, this strange comment has kept me just uncomfortable enough to eventually clarify that this teacher was giving name to an archetypal changing of the guard. He had bought into the "suffering artist" archetype, as was typical for artists of his generation. And here I was, good at all kinds of things, including poetry: the "thriving artist" archetype. I don't think he liked seeing a woman who could tie her shoes, chew bubble gum, and write a poem, and that's fine with me--change is uncomfortable for all of us. What that anti-advice did for me was clarify my position of which side of the artist fence I was on. It inspired me to take a stand for the balanced creative life in which poetry was an expression of abundance. I've been going public in defense of the thriving artist archetype ever since.
FL: What book do you think every writer should read?
SC: Every writer needs something different in the way of education and inspiration; I don't presume to have the single answer that will work for everyone. The book that was most significant to me in my foundational years was Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. It gave me both permission and strategies to access what was most true and free in my thinking and writing. That book became the foundation of my writing practice. My suggestion is that each writer commit to finding the book that is their true companion -- and ignoring / discarding any advice along the way that doesn't resonate.
FL: If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?
SC: 1. Painter. 2. Rock and roll star 3. Animal rights + world hunger activist
FL: Describe your work habits. When do you write? Where?
SC: I write for a living, and I keep regular, work-day office hours for my marketing communications business. I do that writing in a home office, at a desktop computer. My creative writing happens generally on my laptop, in bed, at all hours of the night. My prime creative writing time is 4 p.m. to midnight. Before I was a mother, I was able to honor this rhythm somewhat. These days, I'm lucky if I get an hour from 9-10 p.m. Then, I often find myself awake and writing between 4 and 6 a.m.
FL: What inspires you?
SC: Forests. Oceans. Bathtubs. Sushi. Literature. Good company. The right drum beat to match my mood.
FL: If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
SC: Jhumpa Lahiri. I would like to thank her for keeping me company in the woods that winter in my 20's, broken-hearted, swimming in words, with the most perfect collection of short stories I have ever read. She lifted me completely out of my small sense of possibility into some other place sculpted of words.
FL: Do you have any other creative talents? Do you paint? Play a musical instrument?
SC: I sing, drum, paint, and dance. I have also done some really terrible acting.
FL: What are you working on now?
SC: I have a collection of poems and a memoir in the works. I'm also getting ready to lead an online course for women to guide them through the death and rebirth process of divorce.
To learn more about Sage Cohen and her work, visit her blog at: pathofpossibility.com
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This was great fun, Lori! So delighted to be traveling with you!
Great to be traveling with you, Sage! Thanks so much for doing the interview.
Question to ask Sage: What made Sage want to be a writer? Did she write while growing up? Does she believe that she has something unique to say? Did a certain writer inspire her to write as opposed to some other field? With her other talents (besides being a mom), why writing? I read something about acting. Just curious.
I have passed your question along to Sage, Mario!
Here is Sage's response:
"Writing chose me. I read voraciously while growing up, and at about age 14, I starting writing regularly and seriously in an attempt to make sense of my family and my life. I wrote because I had to, with no ambition or self-consciousness. I shared my words with no one for at least a decade. In college, Marge Piercy was a major influence. She welcomed me into the possibilities of womanhood.
Acting: nope--not a talent! Being a rock star: not compatible with my sleep schedule! (As if that were the only limitation!) Singing, thankfully, does not require a stage or an audience. Nor does writing."
Sage (and Lori),
Thanks for writing back. I wish I had read and wrote more growing up. It wasn’t discouraged but wasn’t encouraged. I was more Math-Science oriented. Now, retired, I would like writing as one of my hobbies, but I’m struggling with it. I’m not sure that I can make up all the practice that I missed over the years that you had. I’m definitely reading more. Maybe there’s hope. I don’t need an audience either. I don’t care about getting published. I just want something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by if my kids read them after I was gone.
I had never heard of Marge Piercy before but I looked up some of her quotes and she sounds like a sharp woman.
Take care and good luck with your writing. Thanks Lori for passing on the question.
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