TAW Week 8

I noticed that the three things I underlined in this chapter are all about the same thing: showing up daily.

“If you break a screenplay down into daily increments, that small smattering of writing can get done quickly and promptly–before the dirty laundry. And it can carry you through the rest of your day guilt-free and less anxious.”

“…the drudgery of small and simple daily steps in the right direction.”

” Small actions lead us to the larger movements in our creative lives.”

This is something I have struggled with for years, the whole showing up everyday thing even if, espeically if, I don’t know what comes next. So, the fact that I have showed up every single day since january 1 to write on a story is HUGE for me. Huge. Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes I wrote for longer stretches but I am ignoring that part for now. That is the prissy part of me that thinks whatever I do is never ever enough. Never. Seriously, she’s a pain in the ass.

Showing up to my writing everyday has given me creative strength. It’s just like building literal muscle. You lift small weights every day, and slowly, almost imperceptibly you gain muscle mass. You look in the mirror and see these lovely toned arms and realize that your work is paying off. Same with my writing. I look up and realize that the daily struggle is largely gone. Sure, I don’t always run to my desk, eager to dive into the latest story but showing up has become almost non-negotiable. The drama is gone.

Morning pages: wrote them eveyday. A couple of days they felt tedious. Self-indulgent. A waste of a lovely tree. But, hey, that’s part of my process.

Artist date: I went to Barnes & Noble in Ann Arbor for a free acoustic performance by Michael Franti and Spearhead. So much fun. Happy music. He talked about writing some of his songs. They signed CD’s and hugged and took a photo with each and every fan that stood in line. The epitomy of graciousness.


TAW Week 7

Connection- That was the theme of this week. I found myself re-connecting with my creativity. I painted my office the most vibrant turquoise color with an accent wall in poppy. I hung curtains (technically shower curtains) but they are beautiful and provided my color palette. This was the last room in the house that needed to be painted besides the upsstairs hallway. It is now offically my favorite room. We moved some furnitue around and really opened up the space. Even my husband (who totally dropped everything to help me) says he wanders into that room just to look at it. Another dear friend that it looks like me. It definitely has a good energy. Besides painting an entire room, I took a break and collaged a card/wall hanging for my daugthter’s seventeenth birthday which she loved. I saw she actually hung it up in her room. And now I am in teh middle of creating a 24″ x 24″ mixed media painting to go on the newly painted poppy-colored wall. I want it to be layered and textured so I am challenging myself to go beyond what I would normally do. To try and “ruin” the canvas. Even if I hate it I can just gesso over it and begin again. That will certainly add layers to it.

In the writing department, I did mornign pages everyday. I also picked up Judy Reeves’ revised “Writer’s Book of Days”. My old copy has been well-used over the years. The new edition has brand new prompts for everyday of the year so I’ve been allowing myself to play with writing practice again. Sometimes it ends up relating to a story I am already working on. Other times it stirs up something brand new. I also started a brand new story. It seems to be a novel. Kind of fantasy for adults regarding a “Muse”.

For my Artist Date this week I went to the movies by myself. I’ve often done this over the years but had done it in awhile. Some women I’ve talked to admit that they could never go to a movie alone. Me, I find it relaxing. A true escape. Oh, I saw “Morning Glory”. Cute and funny.

One thing I’ve noticed with all this creativity spilling out of me lately, is the necessity of these Artist Dates. She’s right, we absolutely need to fill the well on a regular basis.

The Jealousy Maps didn’t reveal anyting I didn’t already know. But I love the spin she puts on it. Makes me feel less “yucky” when that green monster shows up. More proactive. I actually didn’t do many of the tasks this week. Created a wonderful smell with a pot of homemade vegetable soup simmering in the crockpot all day while we painted. I’d like to buy myself one wonderfully comforting, self-loving soemthing- just haven’t identified it yet. Although I didn’t make a collage this week, I’ve done them before and some hang on the closet doors in my office. I often do a collage on New Year’s day (along with my daughters). A kind of vision board for what I want the new year to bring.

TAW Week 6

Week 6 focused on abundance and did that issue ever come up and hit me in the face. The reality of college looming right around the corner is a big one right now. Plus the holidays. And our car broke so we had to decide whether to put more money into it or finally get a new (used) one. Opted for the latter. And while I was slightly stressed, mostly I had this feeling of calm that it would work out. It usually does. When my computer was very very sick a new one practically fell into our laps. Well, this time, a great deal on a great car fell into our laps. But that’s not exactly true. It only happened (in both instances) because my husband is out there in the world constantly meeting people and making connections. So when we are in need of something he usually knows of somebody who can help. And that is because he is always available and willing to help others. Karma, baby.

Regarding the exercises… I noticed that some of my beliefs have endured over the years, almost verbatim, while others have changed. I also gained some insight into why I find it hard to ask for help, whether it is monetary or not, so that was interesting.

Morning pages: still doing them. some days are quite thoughtful and reflective. Others are rather shallow and whiney and I am learning to be okay with that.

Artist date: Went to a great local art show called Two Chicks and an Art Show. One was mixed media and one was fine art. Loved both and even bought a piece for our living room. It’ s a cool box in wonderful colors. I’ll have to post a photo.

Salon Saturday: Not Knowing

Meditation and I have had a love/hate relationship for years. I understood the benefits: higher creativity, improved immune system, lower stress, improved concentration. In spite of knowing the benefits, I resisted it consistently. While at a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg, she strongly encouraged all of her students to get up early, gather in the main hall to meditate. now, I am a perpetual teacher pleaser but even with one of my writing mentors urging me to sit, promising all kinds of tremendous gifts especially to my writing, I never showed up. Not even once.

Flash forward twelve years and I find myself meditating, all on my own, without any outside prodding. It started the morning my daughters went back to school on September 7. I woke up at 5:30, went into my office, lit a candle, turned on the Sharon Salzberg CD and proceeded to meditate for twenty minutes. I then fed the dog, woke the girls up and proceeded to get them ready and out the door. You know, my inner mean voice chided,  one day does not a meditator make. I knew this. But the next day I found myself repeating the exact same routine. And the next. And the next. It’s been almost sixty days and I have not missed one.

So, why now? What am I getting from this practice? I believe I am experiencing all of the benefits outlined above. But there is more. I am learning to be kinder to myself. There is no wrong way to do it. Your thoughts are going to wander. That’s what the mind has been trained to do. My job is to be aware of that, notice when I’ve stopped observing the breath and gently guide my focus back. I am learning how to be a beginner. Salzberg gently reminds me that I have to begin again a million times in the course of one sitting. That’s the practice. This has filtered into my creative life. Many published writers have said that each book makes them a beginner all over again. Being a beginner is freeing. I am trying to let it spill into my art as well.

There is one more benefit that I had never considered before but it came to me recently. So much of our time is spent not knowing. We don’t know if a new recipe with turn out. We don’t know if we have cancer cells invading our body at this moment. WE don’t know if our loved will come home at the end of the day. We don’t know where our country is headed. We don’t know where and when terrorists will strike again. We don’t know if the next flu will be the deadly pandemic. The list goes on and on. So why meditate in the face of all that? How does it help? For me, meditation is the one still place where I know. I know that I am sitting an the floor. I smell the vanilla candle. I know that my breath is moving in and out, in and out. I know my thoughts appear, I latch on, I remember to breathe and the thoughts dissipate, until they appear again. So sitting is the antidote to not knowing. Not knowing is uncomfortable. Especially in my writing. it’s hard not knowing why a new character has suddenly appeared. it’s hard not knowing what they will do next. Get comfortable with not knowing is crucial to writing. Ron Carlson likens it to pushing yourself out into the ocean until you can’t touch ground. That’s when something happens. If we are too scared of not knowing we will force our characters into our agendas instead of following them on their own journey.

On one of my workout DVD’s Jillian Michaels encourages us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s when your body changes. Meditation allows me to begin to learn to do just that. Watching all the crazy thoughts that tangle across my mind is not comfortable. Sitting cross legged is not always comfortable. But the more I do it, the more comfortable I get with my body, my writing process, my mind and the unavoidable state of not knowing.

How about you? Do you meditate. Why or why not? Does not knowing inspire your creative process or stall it?

TAW- Week #5

Morning pages: six out of seven days. I don’t think I hit that half page truth point yet on any kind of regular basis. I do find that if I don’t do the pages first thing in the morning, when I hit that half page point I totally lose steam. If I write first  the pages (and time) fly by.

Artist date: I went to an art show at the local library. Interesting bronze sculptures and lovely gouache/watercolors paintings. I feel like I don’t put much thought or effort into these excursions and they definitely haven’t felt adventurous, except for the fashion show. I have some plans for later this month. We’ll see how they pan out.

Getting an MFA in creative writing came up on two of my lists this week. What I would do if I had money at 20 and at 65. The best writing retreat I went on was with Ron Carlson at the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop, which they call a bootcamp for writers. For a week I was completely immersed in the art and craft of writing. Generating about a dozen new stories; sitting in the library late at night finishing up an assignment; listening the writing of my peers; talking about books and the writing process; being surrounded by people who get it. All  without the responsibility of my daily life. We went to college night this past week for our daughter and I loved all the possibilities spread out for her. I’ve always enjoyed school. I’m good at it. But our priority is getting them through college at this point. If we ever win the lottery, then maybe it’ll be my turn. In the meantime I am trying to think of ways to implement my own personal MFA program with reading lists, writing texts, assignments, my writing group, etc… a way to immerse myself within the structure of my daily life instead of apart from it.

Books Read in October

“Elegies for the Brokenhearted” a novel by Christine Hodgen

Every family had one and you were ours: the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed (garbageman, fry cook, orderly, delivery truck driver) and the forever-newly-unemployed (I didn’t need that shit, you’d say), the chain-smoking fuckup with the muscle car, an acorn-brown 442 Cutlass Supreme named Michelle, the love of your life (Let’s see what this baby can do, you’d say, all six of us cousins piled in the back, and how we screamed when you rolled down the windows and put Michelle’s pedal to the medal on Route 20, how we flew past those strip joints, those 24-hour diners, those squalid motels and scrap metal yards, behind which, a sunken valley, our neighborhood of two-bedroom cinderblock houses sulked and cowered), the bachelor uncle with the bloodshot eyes and five-day beard came late to holiday dinners, rumpled shirt and jeans, breath like gasoline– Michael Timothy Beaudry, for a time you were ours.

That packed first sentence begins the first of five stories that make up this novel. Each story is an elegy to a person who touched Mary’s life in some way and through each elegy her life is revealed. It’s an amazing format that tells a funny and bittersweet story. I got it from the library after my sister recommended it (thanks, sis!) but I think I may have to buy my own copy as there were many lines I wanted to highlight along the way.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” a YA novel by Jay Asher

“Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

Like “Elegies” (above) the structure of this novel is unique and it does not detract from the story at all. In fact, it enhances it. It takes place over the course of a day during which Clay listens to cassettes (in an age of digital music) he recieved mysteriously in the mail. He is stunned to hear the voice of Hannah, a classmate who had committed suicide. The tapes are sent to 13 people, kids who may have somehow contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her own life. It was a fast, intense read.

“The Creative Life- True Tales of Inspiration” by Julia Cameron

Where to begin?

Julia Cameron begins where she is, describing the moment, the weather, the food in front of her.  We are gently led through the days that make up her creative life. The thing that struck me was the group of people she has allied herself with. A creative tribe to share in the ups and downs of the creative process; to enjoy music, theatre together; to rejoice in the success and support in the face of rejection or setbacks. The artist need not be lonely or isolated. In fact, she should seek to surround herself with her own tribe of creatives.

“Freedom” a novel by Jonathan Franzen

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally– he and Patty had moved to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now– but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.

I approached this mammoth novel with some trepidation, requesting the book from my local library before Oprah chose it for her book club. There was a lot of hype out there from the President receiving an advance copy while on vacation to the Time magazine cover declaring Franzen the Great American Novelist which prompted a backlash from women writers and bothered me as well. But I read it. It’s a good story. It is. He wove together several political, cultural, generational threads as told through the story of the Berglunds. The bulk of the story is about the relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, friends, lovers, siblings and neighbors which is what many women write about and often it is dismissed as women’s fiction so I don’t understand why a novel such as “Freedom” written by a man is so exalted as a prism that reflects our times. So maybe I went into this with a kind of chip on my shoulder. A kind of prove-it-to-me attitude. While I can always appreciate a well-told, well-written, well-paced story, which this certainly was, I tend to gush over stories where the sentences are almost musical or that contain metaphors that take my breath away and make me pick up my pen to highlight them, which this wasn’t.