The Importance of the Reflective Voice

Susan J. Tweit on how to go from "poor me" to finding what is universal

“How do we rise to be the people we want to be in the hardest times?” —Susan J. Tweit

Preview: Episode 53 with memoirist and plant biologist Susan J. Tweit

Continuing in our Soul Food series for creative practice, we speak with award-winning writer and plant ecologist Susan J. Tweit about how writing not only helped her meet a difficult time in her life—her husband’s brain cancer diagnosis—but it also helped her meet the years after in which she transformed the story from her personal experience to universal themes. “Writing every day [during that time] helped me come to grips with fact that if I wanted to help him die with love, I had to be the best me I could be,” she says. And then in the after years, writing and rewriting helped her to find “deeper levels and better understandings.” We talk about the raw data of journals and blogs and Susan’s revising practice (reading out loud, setting the work aside for long periods of time, and more.) Plus we arrive at Susan’s three-word mantra well suited to all creative practices, including life itself.

Susan J. Tweit began her career in Wyoming, studying grizzly bear habitat—collecting and dissecting bear poop—coring trees to map historic wildfires, and researching aromatic big sagebrush. Tweit began writing after realizing that she loved writing the stories behind the data as much as collecting the data. She's written thirteen non-fiction books ranging from memoir and nature writing to kids and travel, along with hundreds of magazine articles, columns, and essays. She admits to being a plant nerd focused on the intriguing lives and interrelationships that weave the West’s living landscapes. Her passion is re-storying this earth, and those with whom we who share the planet. When Tweit is not writing, she's most often outside eradicating invasive weeds—restoring nature, plant by plant. As a Quaker, she walks her talk, and she lives with her heart outstretched as if it were her hand, loving this world. Her most recent book is Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying.

What We’re Reading and Listening to:


  • Our friend Catherine Price (featured in Episode 45) sent me The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life, by Bridget McNulty. Of all the grief books that have come to me recently, this one was the most practical help.

  • My friend Lisa Issenberg brought over John Tarrant, Roshi’s Bring Me the Rhinoceros, a book of zen koans and discussions about them that feels vital and relevant. Even, perhaps, life-saving. A book devoted to “unbuilding, unmaking and tossing overboard” our ideas about how to meet our lives.

  • In Sainted, poet Lisa Zimmerman brings us the lives of the saints and helps us lean into the big questions they, too, were wrestling with—about what it is to be human in relationship with the Divine. I am enjoying how her heart recasts St. Francis, St. Clare, Mother Theresa, Joan of Arc and others.


  • Rosemerry gave me a copy of Stone Gathering: A Reader, Volume III: Issue 2 (Fall 2021) and I quickly devoured this collection of poems, small fictions and essayettes. There’s so much soul-nourishment here — Jill Kolongowski writing about wildfires, Rosemerry on blessings, Debra Marqart on love between sisters and our fucked up medical system, and a beautiful little essay by the late Brian Doyle. I especially loved Sarah Freligh’s poem, Wondrous, about grief and love and her mother reading Charlotte’s Web to her.

  • I loved this profile of creative wonder Laurie Anderson in the New York Times Magazine, and I’m taken with Anderson’s 5 questions she asks to figure out whether what she’s working on is any good or not.

From “Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying” by Susan J. Tweit

"Being perfect is not the human condition. Nor should it be—if we were perfect, we couldn’t stumble and fail and thus learn and grow. The failures may be hard to forgive ourselves for, but they teach us the most. And that learning helps us grow into our best selves. If anything demands those best selves, it’s seeing death ahead—or the world in crisis, doom inexorably approaching like the headlight of an oncoming train. That pitiless light either paralyzes us or opens new insights. Or both, at different times. How we respond is our own choice.”

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Two Questions:

(share your answers with us here on Substack or in our FB group)

  1. Can you come up with a three-word phrase to encapsulate the creative process?

  2. How long do you need to put away a creative project before you can meet it in a fresh way again?