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So, what’s the deal with the monkeys? Besides the fact that the word ‘monkey’ makes you smile, what do monkeys have to do with writing?
In 2007, my husband and I were at a family reunion in northern California. We took a trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk where I spotted a stuffed green monkey hanging by his long arms at a dart booth. I had to have that monkey. Right then.
After a few very expensive games of darts, the monkey was mine. My father-in-law named him Keezel and before long, Keezel began to chat us up as if he’d known us for lifetimes.
Relevant backstory: I love puppets, and I’ve done lots of work with puppet therapy helping kids work through grief in therapeutic settings. This makes me unable to hold a stuffed animal and not somehow animate it.
Keezel developed his own personality quickly, and on a whim I decided to take him to my workshops. He made his debut at Kripalu in January of 2008, and little did I know he’d be the hit of the retreat. Something about his smile or his essential green-ness made people laugh and feel safe, and then, when they’d relaxed, they could clear some of the blocks they’d built up around their own writing hearts.
Keezel brought a lightness and a sense of play to my work. He sparked magic in people. He helped us not be so serious all the time so we could be, well, serious about what matters, and he guided us away from too much thinking so we could be surprised by feeling. And surprise and discovery, Fierce Monkeys, is the fire that stokes a writing life. Stories evoke emotion. So, we best feel some ourselves.
Keezel makes an appearance at all my retreats now. He sets a whimsical tone so that together we can journey to the necessary depths to create meaningful, authentic stories. (And he loves to dance to Prince. He’s partial to the electric guitar solo in “Let’s Go Crazy”. And sometimes he recites the deep wisdom of 80s songs in the form of spoken word poetry, too.)
But there’s more than Keezel to the whole monkey-dom here. Monkeys figure prominently in literature and in the Chinese Zodiac (and yes, I was born in 1968, the Year of the Monkey!)
Monkey qualities in the Chinese Zodiac include mischievousness, cleverness, and curiosity. Monkey-folk are playful problem solvers. They are intuitive, ambitious, and good time managers, but above all—they are persistent. You’ve no doubt heard the adage: Given enough time, a monkey could type out Hamlet. Well, maybe or maybe not. But the writer who doesn’t quit will write much more than the writer who gets up and shifts gears every time a new shiny thing enters the room.
In Hindu mythology, Hanuman the monkey-god is a pivotal character in the Ramayana. He is the god Rama’s best friend, ally and devotee. Hanuman is a symbol of the unlimited power that lies unused within each of us. He perfectly exemplifies devotion—through laser-sharp focus, he finds freedom. Hanuman surrenders himself to something larger.
Writers do this every time we sit down at the keyboard. We have to get out of our own way so that whatever Stories are calling to us can come in. We are in service to and alliance with our writing.
What can writers learn from actual monkeys (260 known species!) on planet Earth?
Monkeys are curious. What’s that storyline about? Who are you? Why are you in my story? What does that image have to do with anything? Writers need to follow the questions to find the heart of their work. Writers who know everything don’t get very far.
Monkeys persevere. You want the super-secret to writing? Butt in chair. Write. Repeat. You’re welcome.
Monkeys take care of themselves. It is not selfish to take care of yourself first. It’s not unfair to others to cultivate space and time to do your work.
Monkeys are playful. You know. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But maybe not that extreme.
Monkeys are omnivores. Of course you can be a vegetarian or a vegan. Writers need to be omnivores of experiences. We need to examine everything we encounter with an open heart and then decide what will best nourish us. We never know what will spark the story.
Monkeys are crazy flexible. I can’t stand on my head, but it’s cool if you can. Flexibility in writing comes from understanding how to adjust and realign when something isn’t working. Our lives are not stagnant. Neither is our writing practice.
And yeah, the word monkey makes you smile. It’s a whole lot easier to write when you’re smiling. I’m smiling right now just thinking about you smiling! In a totally non-creepy way. Monkeys aren’t stalkers.
I believe writing and reading are sacred and necessary. I want to live in a world where writers are fairly compensated for the work they do and honored for their contributions. I want to promote a space where each of us recognizes and utilizes the uniqueness that we each contain and feels safe and supported bringing those gifts to others.
Fierce Monkey Tribe’s work contributes to this vision by providing content-rich trainings, uplifting and motivational seminars and extras, and deep-excavation transformational programs. By helping you connect with and maintain a relationship to your talents and stories, I mobilize you rise up and meet your story.
In keeping with our vision of a world where reading and writing are sacred and necessary, every two years, we select one non-profit organization that embodies those values, and we donate 10% of our profits to them. Currently, we are supporting 826 Valencia, a non-profit based in San Francisco founded by author Dave Eggers. 826 Valencia’s mission is to support students 6-18 with their writing skills and help teachers get their students excited about the literary arts.