What are your core beliefs?

Hello everyone,

Photo by Theresa Barker.

Do you ever ask yourself, why do I write? What are my values and how are they connected to the writing I do?

This week I’m at a writing conference in Port Townsend, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. In one workshop we spent time thinking about what landscape(s) we feel most drawn to and how those landscapes were evocative of our personal values. I wrote down two landscapes: the Desert Southwest, where I was born, and the Pacific Northwest, where I have lived all my life. To me, the desert  represents eternity in its rocky minimalist landscape, while the northwest represents renewal in its prolific greenness, but both of these landscapes convey a yearning for beauty. We talked about how the things that are important to us keep popping up as themes in our writing and in our art. Thinking about what themes come up in my work, I have to say it’s often about what it means to be human. What makes us act and think and believe a certain way? Can we become better versions of ourselves? – More fair, more generous and kind, more knowledgeable?

I’ve been doing a LOT of journaling in the past few weeks, trying to learn more about my own creativity and about the barriers that keep me back. Sometimes in the past I’m tempted to think of journaling as the “lazy way” to write, because you just have to write down your thoughts and feelings and you don’t have to make up characters, or try to use poetic language. But let’s face it, in journaling we can drill down into our thinking. We can elicit core beliefs. We can put together our approach to life and to our art.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

Through journaling and in some of the workshop sessions this week I’m starting to realize more of a vision about my writing. When I get up in the morning here the winter light beams across the water, over the lightened cliffs of Whidbey Island in the distance, and onto the rocky-sandy shore. Clouds mass over the water in whites, browns, and grays. It’s a complicated landscape. Like writing!

Here’s something I’ve been working on recently:


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Now that I have your face by heart I look at the way it looks back at me. The eyes, the eyebrows more, the curve of the cheek, the half-smile, these all reflect back the long pearl-chain of women who came before you and I. My mother, my grandmother, her mother, and so on and so on. The female mitochondria that don’t lie. They carry such a burden. My mother’s insouciance, my grandmother’s cratchetiness, a great-grandmother’s long-suffering, another’s dogged perseverance. They all lie together in our shared DNA, that X in my cells that became an X in your cells. Don’t forget you have an X from your father, an X that takes you back through his mother’s line, mothers of mothers of mothers of mothers. We all have the burden of Xing back to the lines out of Africa. There is, somewhere, a DNA-based Eve. Or more than one. Perhaps seven, a lucky number. They who scratched in the dirt for roots, who climbed down from the trees to the savannah, gathering nuts and berries and who dried the meat hunted by men, they who carried babies on their backs and around their chests, they who dried the tears of children who cried, they who cried themselves when they lost their own children to illness, to injury, to stealing raids by attackers.

Now that I have your face by heart I look at the way it looks back at me and I feel the presence of all those lineage ancestors. The hearted burden of inheritance brings danger, brings knowledge, brings love.

Take care and good writing,


38 thoughts on “What are your core beliefs?

  1. Theresa, I love your DNA piece! Wow, so lovely!
    My landscapes are the lakes of my childhood (Michigan, land of 11,000 lakes) and then the desert. Although I feel so happy in the non-desert part of southern California, I find the desert of Arizona and of California likes to invade my writing. Land and landscape is very important to poetry, in particular, I would argue. But maybe every writer feels that way about her genre?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Luanne, I’m so excited you liked my little piece. I’m impressed at your Michigan childhood landscape but I am intrigued, like Kimberlee, about how the desert landscape invades your writing. Dare we hope to see a mention of this in an upcoming blog post? That would be awesome.
      For reference, the exercise my writer-friend did when she was leading the workshop was: 1) What landscape(s) are you most drawn to? 2) How do those landscapes connect to your values (spiritual or emotional or other values)? Also 3) What themes recur in your writing or seem to pop up unbidden in your life, your reading, or your awareness in some other way? (Feel free to adapt this exercise to a blog post if desired!) 🙂


  2. I’m writing a weekly roundup of a daily photo project I am working on these days. It’s made me realize that I think about light a lot!
    I’ll be honest about “Daughters” I like the idea but am not crazy about the language. Maybe you intended this but it seems angry to me?
    I’ve never been brave enough to really write a journal.
    Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congrats on the daily photo project! And it’s wonderful that you have light on your mind and in your mind.

      Interesting that you found my piece angry. Ouch! I didn’t intend it that way, but I will take another look with that in mind to see what might have led you to that response. Very helpful to hear.

      Again, thanks, Amy! Apologies for the inadvertent psyche-damage from my piece!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. … just a postscript that your telling me you felt anger in the piece was super-helpful in another way, in that it connected to some of the advocacy and community activism work I’m doing. Over the weekend I led a workshop for the writing conference that was on “Moving Minds,” writing an Op-Ed or opinion piece that creates advocacy for a cause you’re passionate about. One of the key points I shared was to not to leave the reader in a despairing place, to try to end the piece with some step of action or with some level of hope, so as to avoid “compassion fatigue.” When you said that my DNA piece seemed angry, I was able to go back and scrutinize the wording to see what might have evoked that reaction. And when I did I saw that, even though I was expressing my own history and it was factual for me, the word selection did have a strong negative emotional impact. And so often we get carried away wanting to express our frustration and anger about a cause that it can unintentionally invoke a strong pushback reaction in the reader who isn’t even the person we’re mad at. That was super-helpful to see, and I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion if you hadn’t spoken up! Thank you! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, yes! And you did me a huge favor by telling me what you saw in that piece. It helped me to look more carefully at word choice, like a poet! – and to understand the effect of specific words on the overall tone of the piece. – I kept that in mind with this piece this week. Big thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a privilege to be able to attend another writing conference, Theresa. Seems like you have been to a few of these and writing workshops since I got to know you. That is such a good question that brings us back to the roots of our writing, making us think about our purpose behind writing and in front of it. Interesting to hear about your landscapes – representing where you are born and where you are now, and how far you have come 🙂

    I also think the theme what it means to be human also comes up in my writing. I like questioning human existence, and like exploring how all of us interact with each other and our different personalities. The landscapes I associate with the most is the sky… When I was younger someone once said the sky is one. No matter where we are in the world, we just have to look up at the sky and realise, we’re home.

    Another lovely fiction write as well. Some of us have lived very much tough times and come out stronger thereafter, stronger for ourselves and our families.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mabel, I love that you are drawn to the sky, AND that thought that the sky is one. I never thought of it that way and never heard that idea before. So cool!

      I would agree you do think about what it means to be human also, and you bring that out in your writing. I learn so much from hearing your perspectives in the articles you write. 🙂

      Thank you for the mention of my fiction write. I had been thinking about some of the women in my family who had felt they were not able to have opportunities that they would have wanted, my grandmother who wanted to attend college, another grandmother who wanted to drive the horse team on her father’s ranch in the early 1900s and was told girls didn’t drive teams, my mother who used to clash with her mother over who had the most health problems when she was a child, her or her mother. It seems sad to think of it all coming down to me. Happily I have had a lovely and productive and imaginative life, and happily also my daughter and son also have lives that they make of their own. We hope each generation is more forgiving of themselves and more accepting of opportunities for everyone, right? 🙂

      Thank you again!


      1. So interesting to read a bit more about your family, and thank you for sharing. It did sound like your family had to keep fighting for the opportunities they had. How times have changed, and sometimes it takes one small encouragement for us to manifest opportunities for ourselves. Keep being you, Theresa 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for your kind message, Mabel! A cousin and I from that side of the family were comparing notes a few weeks ago about our grandmother (the one who was so frustrated about being told that, being a girl, she could not go to college, while her brother got money for it), and about why at times she seemed so cratchity, and he said, she had so many ambitions and she just didn’t get the chance, living between 1911 and 2004, in a dour Midwest family that could see her potential. 🙂 I love “sometimes it takes one small encouragement for us to manifest opportunities for ourselves.”! Thank you!


  4. Interesting, my friend. I must think about it a bit more. 🙂

    I’m a city girl (although originally from a tropical island) and my settings are usually the city. I am somehow an Ayn Rand follower. Objectivity does makes sense to me, although I must say I don’t fully understand everything. I believe in the virtue of selfishness. However, I also am totally for learning something new every day, and growing! I aim to be a better version of me every day. I often say I’m quite eclectic, in many aspects of life. 🙂

    Much love and hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

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