Acclaimed author, poet, teacher, speaker, Dale Kushner is the founder and director of The Writer’s Place, a literary center in Madison, Wisconsin. She chronicled her decision to become a novelist rather than a Jungian analyst in “Treating Patients, Creating Characters,” her first blog post for Psychology Today, where she continues to contribute at Transcending the Past. Her workshops combine her interests in Buddhism, Jungian psychology, healing, spirituality, and the creative process. She has taught at the Assisi Institute and is the former Poetry Editor for The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. Her first book of poems, More Alive than Lions Roaring, was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award and the Agha Shahid Ali Prize. Taos Press will be publishing a new book of her poems on desire and loss in 2019. Margot Livesey hailed her first novel, The Conditions of Love (2013), as “an immaculately written, enthralling, and passionate debut.” She is currently working on her second novel that explores transgenerational trauma. One of her favorite pastimes is chatting with those who love to read, over the phone or Skype, about her work and others.
My Goal of the Day: Noticing the “ordinary beautiful.”
A Buddhist practice that has altered my life for the better is training my mind to stay in the present moment. Our minds are fantastic movie-making machines. We are constantly running reels forward and backward, imagining catastrophic futures or reliving past events. As a novelist and poet, the muscle of my imagination is particularly well-developed. Shifting my attention to observe the beautiful ordinary right in front of me—the barista’s goofy smile, a drifting autumn leaf— breaks the narrow focus on self and expands my moments of everyday joy.
My Thought of the Day: Wow! I wasn’t expecting this! How am I going to stay resilient?
Life surely does zap us with unexpected challenges. We all know people who have experienced illness, financial or emotional troubles, and any number of traumatic events, and have not only survived but thrived. Miraculously, we can bounce back after hardship, but it takes consciousness and determination as well as abiding friendship and patience and compassion toward oneself. Wise and caring family and friends aid our recovery. Resiliency is a quality I always consider when I’m developing a fictional character. I ask myself: how is this person going to deal with conflict?
My Action of the Day: Heart, what do you want me to know today?
As a writer, my life and art are intricately connected. At the moment, I’m working on my second novel with a new set of characters. I need to listen very carefully to their stories in order to write them accurately and with depth. One way I get inside the material and also in touch with my creative self is to sit quietly and ask this question directly to my heart. I highly recommend this practice. I can guarantee your heart will surprise you with answers.
My Tip of the Day: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
I love the late great Leonard Cohen’s lyrics to his song “Anthem.” Especially during these chaotic dark times, can we remember there are always cracks where the light gets in?
My Deed of the Day: Taking my Golden Retriever Maisie to the dog park.
If you want to get happy, with or without a dog, go to your local dog park. I guarantee you’ll be smiling by the time you leave. Pooches’ antics are quite hilarious. Believe me, they strut and sashay and stick up their noses just like us. And then there’s the look-alike factor of dogs and their owners. Check it out! I often do my best composing, writing a chapter in my head, as I stroll the dog park track. When we return home, Maisie and I are a very contented couple. I don’t even mind all the dog hair clinging to my jeans.
My Pic of the Day:
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
Madison is Wisconsin’s state capital, the home to a Big Ten university, fabulous restaurants, micro-breweries, coffee roasters, amazingly delicious food carts, award-winning chefs, but what I really love about Madison, aside from, don’t laugh!, the cheese curds and beer, are the parks and woodland places within the city. Three lakes surround Madison, and summer or winter, you can walk or ride your bike along their shores. I’ve spent some time in the Southwest, which I also love, but I need my old deciduous trees. There is nothing like sitting under a wide-armed prairie oak in autumn and watching its russet leaves float through the blue air.
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM—I’m still in bed, in the in-between state of sleeping and waking, halfway dreaming my new novel into being.
10:00 AM—I’ve usually finished up business email, taken care of house stuff, and am out doing a power walk or at the gym, getting my blood going for a day of writing.
12:00 PM—I rarely eat out so I’m at my writing desk, probably with a bowl of leftovers for lunch in my lap. I imagine the lifestyle food coaches out there are wagging a finger at me.
7:00 PM—I’m most likely finishing up my writing for the day and trying to decide whether or not to watch the evening news. Like so many of us these days, I sometimes need to take a “news break.”
11:00 PM—I’m in bed with a book open on my chest.
Most Used App/Favorite Instagram Account:
Insight Timer. A great app that has hundreds of meditations to choose from and also a meditation bell timer.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
My first answer to this was: I hate getting lost anywhere, but that is not completely true. I love getting lost in research! One of the great pleasures in my life as a writer is finding endlessly fascinating subjects to research. For instance, the novel I’m currently working on explores inherited trauma, that is, how a trauma experienced in a one generation can affect the generations that follow. When I’m creating the setting for a book, I research the town’s history, or the geology of the area, or even what were the top ten tunes of that season. Just about anything I want to know I can find online, including access to libraries and museums around the world.
What should everyone try at least once?
Cheesecake made the old-fashioned way. Here’s a classic recipe for the willing. Joy of Cooking sour cream cheesecake