Of Time and Memory

Oneonta
“What was and is, always will be,
but what about what will be?
Is it happening concurrently?
Have I slipped this time stream unaware?”
 
From the poem, “Time, Free Will, and our Monomyth,”
in my book, “A Sanctuary Built of Words.”
 
I’ve been fascinated by the interplay of time and memory for as long as I can recall. It started, perhaps, with the Science Fiction and Fantasy reading I did in middle school. From the book “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle to the more recent, brilliant movie, “Arrival,” based on a Nebula awarding winning story by Ted Chiang, I have been inspired by the stories people have written related to these concepts.
 
I know smells and musical rhythms can be powerful aids in recalling memories but can a simple change in elevation or even the rhythm of driving around mountains work the same way? Perhaps. It seemed to me that as we drove into the Catskills this past weekend, it began to “feel” more like home.
 
It felt a little like I was experiencing a tesseract, Madeleine L’Engle’s concept for a wrinkle in the space-time continuum. Like I was peering through a door in the hills, back toward my childhood. It turned into a poem, of course, which I plan to post on Friday.
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What does success look like for you?

cOFFEEHOUSE

I saw a meme the other day that showed Kermit the Frog in various poses and it was captioned, “Me, pondering whether my writing career is going anywhere.”

It reminded me of a book years ago that encouraged readers to define what success would look like for them individually. For me it was a husband, family home in the country (where I live) and children. I would get up and send the kids off to school and my husband to work, then write for the morning and deal with business correspondence in the afternoon.

I’m part way there.

It also included writing things that affected people positively, helped them in some way. I’ve gotten that too, but I want more of it. 🙂

A friend took my book on the road with her this past weekend to a festival where she had her own books, beaded jewelry and photography. She said no one bought a book but several people looked and took one of my business cards, so that’s hopeful.

I could live with just writing. I LOVE to write, period, full stop. I’d keep doing it if no one ever read a word I wrote again, though sharing my writing in writer’s group and online is a wonderful outlet as well.

What does success look like for you?

(Shown: Carol’s Coffee & Art Bar in Owego, NY from my favorite table in the back.)

Buick Enclaves are Following Me!

Latteleaf

This past week has been a fun one even though I’m suffering with one of those awful summer colds where zinc doesn’t diminish the fires of hell burning in my throat. I keep watching more people like the post with the cover of my book and then I invite them to like the page.

And I’m really looking forward to the write-in at my library on Saturday. We welcome everyone who writes but most of the people who come will be from my regular writer’s group. People sometimes thank me for running it but the truth is that I get just as much out of it as I put in. It helps keep me focused on my writing goals. I don’t think I’d have accomplished nearly as much as I have if it weren’t for the group.

I don’t know how close I am to the goal of my writing starting to pay me back financially for all the work I put into it but I play a little game, it’s called “Buick Enclaves are Following Me!” Whenever I go out to write, usually at a coffee shop, I always watch for the Buick Enclaves, particularly red ones. Sunday I stopped at the coffee shop to write for a bit and afterward I went to the grocery store. Just before I turned into the store, a red Buick Enclave passed me going in the other direction. As I was walking out of the store, a dark blue one drove by in the parking lot. They’re my little sign from the Universe, I like to believe, that I am in the right place at the right time, doing what I should be doing.

Do you have anything like that? Little signposts along the road?

Shonda Rhimes and Grey’s Anatomy

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One of my modern writing influences is Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, I’m as influenced by movies and televisions as books. It’s all about stories to me, wherever we find them. Some people like to say that there is nothing good on television anymore but I think that if you look for it, and if you don’t just zone out when you watch, there are some great and inspiring works. Grey’s Anatomy was one of those for me.

I started watching Grey’s Anatomy, created by Shonda Rhimes, back when it first went on the air and was immediately in love with the writing. I adored the characters of Meredith Grey and Christina Yang. I loved George. I watched it every Thursday for years, until life intervened. Six months ago, I started going back and watching it from the beginning, as time permits. (Which means I’m only through episode five or so.) But the writing still inspires me.

I read her memoir, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, this past year and it was just like her writing on Grey’s Anatomy. Now, Rhimes starts out by saying that she loves to lie, but I find more truth in her fiction than a lot of other places in life.

Her tone is completely conversational, as if you were right there with her. She talks about her writing –

“There’s a hum that happens inside my head when I hit a certain writing rhythm, a certain speed. When laying track goes from feeling like climbing a mountain on my hands and knees to feeling like flying effortlessly through the air. Like breaking the sound barrier. Everything inside me just shifts. I break the writing barrier. And the feeling of laying track changes, transforms, shifts from exertion into exultation.”

I call it the writer’s high. It’s incredible and I totally agree.

Shonda is an introvert, an extreme introvert, highly gifted with words and, it seems to me, highly intelligent. Saying yes to things is terrifying, but she begins doing it anyway, even if it finds her “licking the dust at the bottom of the Xanax bottle because oh yeah, I don’t take Xanax anymore, it’s been twelve years since Xanax was my friend.”

 “I was just an unusual kid. Lucky for me, my parents held unusual in high regard. And so when I wanted to play with the cans in the pantry for hours on end, my mother didn’t tell me to stop messing around with the food and go somewhere else to play. Instead, she declared it a sign of creativity, closed the pantry door and let me be.”

Lucky for all of us.

“As Watergate played out on the tiny black and white set my mother had dragged into the kitchen and balanced on a chair just outside the pantry doors, my three-year-old imagination made a world of its own. The big cans of yams ruled over the peas and green beans while the tiny citizens of Tomato Paste Land planned a revolution designed to overthrow the government. There were hearings and failed assassination attempts and resignations . . . Man, that pantry was fun.

This memoir is a window on her world –  vivid, honest, engaging, funny and wonderful. I’m so glad she decided to share it.

Inspiration and Innovation

I’ve been having some difficulty keeping my motivation up for this NaNoWriMo this month. Part of it is this cold that has been kicking my butt and part of it is the story I’m trying to write. I like it but I don’t know where it’s going. So, I’ve been looking for some inspiration and started reading through the blog posts of The Green Dragon Artist, Christy Jackson Nicholas, on how she organizes and writes her novels. Though they are full of good information, and inspirational photographs from Ireland, one thing in particular struck me. She talks about doing research before she begins to write, 15 hours of it for one book, and it hit me – I have let the research side of the equation slide!

I used to research, in books and online, until I reached a threshold where the information spontaneously began to recombine into something new, a piece of writing that combined my fictional story and my knowledge. Lately, however, with my intensive schedule of work, commute, home, child, etc., I have let the research side of the equation slide and that is part of why I am having trouble with this particular book I want to write about a pandemic. I need to know more about how many people we might lose and how that would affect life at every level and what would happen when the power grid went down. Without them, I am stymied.

Thanks, Christy!

A Bit of #CampNaNoWriMo Inspiration

Camp NaNoWriMo Pompts

Camping out!

 

First, a little update. It’s been an interesting 11 days of writing for #CampNaNoWriMo. I started out with the idea that I would write one short story a day, no matter how short, on a different prompt. (Witness my last two posts on this blog of prompts gathered from Pinterest.) Instead, I found myself after two or three starts, writing an Urban Fantasy novel that keeps expanding with each prompt.

Everything that I see or think of seems to get applied to this story and the writing is going as fast as I have time for. I am about 6,000 words behind but I have 12,000 to call my own and a lot more ideas for scenes to write. It is positively exhilarating and I don’t know where it’s coming from!

A few things this past 11 days have inspired me. I came across a link to some excerpts from an interview with Chinua Achebe on a writer’s ability to inspire society. You can find it here – http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/11/chinua-achebe-meaning-of-life/

Then there are these great sheets of lists that can be applied to your writing from Anika on her DeviantArt page. I’m thinking to use the sheets on Common Character Habits and Character Flaw Reference Sheets to help round out my characters. (Can’t be having those heroes and heroines too perfect!) She also offers a Character Hobby Reference Sheet, Character Fear Reference Sheet, and Character Motivation Sheet.

As usual, my writer’s group last night was both relaxing and inspiring.  I sure need the laughs and I go home fired up to write even when I’m not feeling my best.

I’m not even sure where I came across the information at this point but I have to confess that I never knew Eudora Welty had written a book on writing called, well, On Writing. My sister had given me her autobiography, One Writer’s Beginnings some years ago and I fell in love with it. (I have a strong tendency toward autobiographies by writers.) I went to look for On Writing in our library system and found only one library owned it. I ordered it and it arrived today but, sadly, it has been so heavily underlined and annotated that I don’t think I can read it without my brain exploding!  *grumblegrumblegrumble*

Feeling like procrastinating? If you’re doing #CampNaNoWriMo, how is it going?

Happy Wizarding, Harry, um, I mean Writing

MamaAndBaby

I feel like I have nothing to say today. My munchkin got me up at 4:30 this morning. I just want a nap. So, I give you a poem I wrote when she was a new baby that seems rather appropriate and a link to a favorite inspiring LiveJournal post from Jim Butcher on The Most Important Thing An Aspiring Writer Needs to Know. May the weekend find you time to write.

A Mother’s Weary Vigil

Just after midnight

small heels beat a Morse code

of defiance into the mattress.

I am not tired.

I will not sleep.

Even though

mere moments before

or perhaps after

chubby cheeks and hands

folded in repose on mama’s lap

angelically spoke of

sweet dreams.

Oh, but what transpires

between the rocker and the crib?

Eyes and mouth pop open,

screams or laughter,

legs kick.

I am not tired!

I will not sleep!

Mama returns to the rocker

her weary vigil to keep.

Writing and Creating Every Day

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It’s amazing how the time flies! Spring is busting out all over here. I just realized yesterday that it’s been almost FOUR months since I posted! What have I been up to? Quite a lot, I suppose.

The last time I posted was just before I started teaching a workshop at our library called Creativity Unleashed, based on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. (More about that in a minute.)

I’ve been writing whenever possible, a lot of journaling with the Morning Pages, one of the tools from The Artist’s Way. Our writer’s group is going strong and I’ve been meeting with them on Thursday evenings whenever I could.

I worked really hard last fall on a futuristic, after the fall, mythic short story that I submitted to the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest… and got the rejection late winter. Then I turned around and submitted it to the Narrative Magazine… and also got rejected. Need to find somewhere else to submit it because it is a really good story and deserves to be published.

Anyway, I’ve just started reading blogs again and there are a couple posts that I’ve particularly enjoyed recently. One was sent to me by a friend and came out of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog, inspiring and some good reminders, What I’ve Learned as a Writer. When I read it a couple months ago I realized I had been putting off reading because I didn’t feel I had time for it. Reading this reminded me I need to make time for it if I want to be a good writer.

Then I read one a friend of a friend posted from Chuck Wendig, similar inspiration but with a totally different spin, How To Push Past the Bullshit and Write That Goddamn Novel. (Warning, LOTS of profanity, but well punctuated.)

I can’t vouch for the idea that if you do a full-time job outside the home people will leave you alone to write in your free time, my 4 year old does not follow that logic, but I particularly like where he says, “You can sneeze 350 words.” Now that’s the kind of inspirational writing I can appreciate.

That night I sat down in a chair and wrote 350 words on the ending of my novel while my daughter played before bed time. I think she said something to me a couple times. I caught it and answered but didn’t let it distract me from my purpose. That’s what we need to be doing more of.

Okay, a little bit more about The Creativity Unleashed workshop I’ve just finished teaching.

For the past three months, I’ve been leading a workshop at my library that we called Creativity Unleashed, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Some years ago I picked up this book, read it and put it on my book shelf. Then, when I started getting serious about my writing but couldn’t afford any writing workshops, I decided to do the book as a 12 week workshop at home on my own. It really helped me open up creatively and start writing daily.

One of our group found she could get copies for everyone very cheaply online so we all purchased a copy of the book if we didn’t already have one. The composition of the group was very eclectic and the reasons for being there were just as diverse. The focus was increasing creativity wherever that might be in our lives, whether looking for a new job, writing, quilting, or whatever else it might entail.

Basic Tools

Morning pages, artist dates and weekly exercises are the basis of the Artist’s Way.

Morning Pages are pretty straight forward (and the bane of many a participant.) It is simply three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing as soon as you wake up. When I first started though, it was at 3 in the afternoon. I think the next day was around 2 pm and I worked my way back to mostly 7 am, after I’d been up an hour. I love them! They make me so much more focused for the rest of the day, but even I found it very difficult to get them in towards the end of our workshop when my munchkin had been sick almost continuously for a month and I was suffering severe sleep deprivation.

Cameron says the Artist Date is about filling up the artist’s well with images but our group just set about having fun and took themselves on a huge variety of artist dates. Of course, most of mine tended to have some component of writing but they often included taking in new stories in the form of movies or simply new experiences. I made a practice of checking our local Arts Council calendar for options. One participant brought up the concept of vision boards, where you cut out images from old magazines that appeal to you and I started one on Pinterest. People went to live jazz concerts, beginner bird walks, free movies at the library, and art gallery openings. One week for me it was simply about getting to read a whole mystery novel and another artist date involved cooking up a storm, including honey oat bread, buffalo wing meatballs and coconut pound cake with raspberry sauce.

Weekly exercises run the gamut from writing exercises, like a letter to your future self, to throwing out one piece of old clothing. I admit I did nearly all the exercises when I did this book the first time but then did not pay as close attention to them this time.

If that sounds interesting, I highly recommend you check out the book. I’ll be sharing more about the workshop in the weeks to come.

It’s Friday, go write something. Remember, none of us are promised tomorrow so if you love to write, make some time for it today.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to Unleash Your Creativity!

Thomas Cole

I’m very excited. On Thursday we had the first meeting of a new group at my library that are devoting themselves to doing the 12 week course in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with Mark Bryan. I was planning on 12 people but two extra showed up . . . and two more plan to join us yet!

We’re calling it Creativity Unleashed!

There are some people who have done this before, like myself, who are really excited about the possibilities. I did this ten years ago and it helped me get writing every single day, feel more balanced by releasing my anxieties on the page daily and curb that inner censor.

There are also people who have never done it but are creatively inclined and are looking forward to it. Then there are some people who don’t consider themselves creative but they’re willing to give it a chance. I hope it will pleasantly surprise them. I believe we are creating all the time, from a simple list . . .  to a meal . . .  to love letters.

My biggest hope for this workshop is that it will help me work through those last two chapters of Biomalware. Julia says, in the book, that you can’t keep putting down the same complaints in your morning pages without some kind of solutions presenting themselves.

Of course, finding time for three pages of long hand writing every morning can be difficult. She suggests setting your alarm for a half hour early. That sounds good right now.  However, that night, my daughter had a bad night and needed mommy at Midnight, 2 am, 4 am and she got up for the day at 6:55 am. I didn’t get to my morning pages until 3 in the afternoon.  (By then, I had a lot to say.)

The idea, however, is to get your worries and anxieties down on the page in the morning so you can be more productive the rest of the day.  I have no doubt there will be days I manage that and days I don’t. I will take what I can get.

There’s another reason I love doing workshops like this. Teaching someone else something they don’t know makes me feel competent when other areas of my life are making me feel incompetent. It’s very helpful. I sometimes forget I really have something to offer. It’s a good thing to get out of that head space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone out there, and I do mean anyone. You don’t have to be an artist. You could do the workshop on your own or  find some people to do it with you!

Have you ever used The Artist’s Way as a workshop for yourself? Alone or in a group?  How did it help you? Or did it?

Winter Writing Festival Coming Up!

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Just a quick post because tomorrow is Christmas at my in-laws and I have one day to clean, decorate, do my Christmas baking and wrap presents.  I already have the groceries home and put away, and bread staling to make the Pumpkin Praline Bread Pudding but I wanted to blog real quick about a great winter writing festival coming up. (Thankfully, the store had the Hodgson Mills Gingerbread mix prominently displayed so gingerbread cookie making with my munchkin just got easier.)

Anyway, I just read last night about the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival. The great thing about this writing challenge is that you create your own goals. I’m thinking to simply make writing my fiction daily a priority by putting a time requirement, say at least an hour a day. I was thinking a half hour but that doesn’t seem sufficient. Can I manage an hour? I’ll give it some thought.

I have a novel and several short stories that I want to finish but who knows how long that will take? I’d rather say I’ll work on them daily and see how far that gets me.

The festival starts on January 10th and goes through the end of February. There’s even drawings for prizes! Check it out using the link above. Happy Writing!

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