Cassie Premo Steele is the author of Earth Joy Writing and creator and instructor of A Year of Earth Joy Writing, a series of four workshops aligned with the seasons and with Earth Joy Writing. These workshops, available online and via Zoom, can be taken individually or as a four-season course; learn more here.
In this interview, Cassie talks about her book, her classes, and the power of the natural world …
Q: A Year of Earth Joy Writing comprises four classes, aligned with the seasons, that bring participants together to harness creativity, to connect more deeply with themselves and others, and to access the healing power of nature. How do these sessions expand upon and enhance your book, Earth Joy Writing?
A: Earth Joy Writing is a book that guides readers through the months of the year and provides writing prompts and suggestions for being in nature in new ways. These classes augment these experiences and give opportunities for readers to write in community with others from around the world.
Q: Tell us about the importance of recognizing a new season as it arrives, and what this means for our emotional, intellectual, and creative selves.
A: Most of us live overly busy and harried lives. The turn of the season is a time to slow down and assess: what happened in the last three months? What hurt us? What helped us? What are our intentions for the next three months? How can we learn from nature how to heal and grow in nurturing, supported, and connected ways?
Q: All of the sessions in A Year of Earth Joy Writing combine readings, writings, meditations, and reflection — which makes them powerful workshops for all artists, as well those who may just be beginning their own writing or artistic practice. Why is it important not only to get to work but also to reflect?
A: You may have heard the adage about “working on your business versus working in your business.” We can apply this to writing and other creative practices, as well. I find that “working on” your art, which means taking stock, pausing, brainstorming, refilling your well, and giving yourself time to envision where you want to go — all of these are equally as important as doing the work itself. It provides a nurturing and supportive space for our work and for our minds, bodies, and spirits. And this enables us to escape the traps of “productivity” and “efficiency” that dominate our culture.
Q: As a poet, you incorporate poetry into your sessions. Tell us about the power of language as it relates to our natural world.
A: A poem is a blossom. It takes us in with its scent and color, shape and shadow — and most importantly, it reminds us that there is a temporality, and a temporariness, to life. When we open ourselves to this, we blossom, as well. By listening to poetry in the Earth Joy Writing classes, we can touch something deeper as we create meaning for ourselves in relationship to the natural world.
Q: A vital aspect of your live workshops is creating a safe and sacred space in which participants are not expected to share their work. What is important about writing only for oneself?
A: There are two reasons for this. First, when we are people who must survive in a world that does not always recognize our differences (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, region, culture), we learn to get very good at performing in order to survive. This can infect our writing, as well. By knowing participants will not be sharing their writing, they are able to tell the absolute truth to themselves on the page, and this is incredibly affirming.
Second, many of us take care of others and the earth on a daily basis, and when we know we will not have to do this for others during a workshop, we are able to restore our own well-being more easily.
Q: During a time on Earth in which we’re seeing incredible changes, your book Earth Joy Writing becomes more relevant with each passing year. You currently lead seasonal forest journaling workshops Congaree National Park, where the book is available. How do you envision readers engaging with your book in the years to come, and how will it help us heal ourselves and our planet?
A: One of the first lessons in Earth Joy Writing is that “a thing is not a thing.” Every tree and beaver and flower and mountain is alive, is unique, is a being to be honored and cherished. When I lead workshops at the National Park, it’s easy for participants to see this for themselves simply by being in this natural space. When I teach workshops online, I apply this same principle to the participants themselves. There will never be another you. You are rare and blooming and beautiful. When we appreciate our distinctive and delightful nature in this way, we live with more joy, we can solve problems more creatively, and we open ourselves to more fulfilling and meaningful lives.