Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

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The Sky and the Page

May 29, 2019
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Photo by Ákos Szabó on Pexels.com

 

To escape annual May snowstorms (truth), I find ways to write and work away from home. Although it would be lovely to hop on a plane and head somewhere exotic, I usually settle for something a bit more realistic.

Like Nebraska.

This year, after I finished grading papers and wrapping up the semester, I found a small space to rent on a Mennonite organic popcorn farm. Who knew? But the cabin was the perfect size and place for a writer on retreat. In addition to a chair and a bed, I had a small desk and an outside picnic table perched under a tree filled with songbirds. The property came with two happy dogs, chickens, cows, a couple of old barns, and gracious hosts.

To break up the writing, I took long walks down dirt roads. Sky surrounded me in every direction, and it wasn’t hard to imagine pioneers plodding across the prairie in their covered wagons. Not much changes on the prairie.

Except the sky.

The sky in Nebraska was nothing short of spectacular, opening itself with outstretched arms. Birds welcomed the sun in the morning and sung it goodnight in the evening when the colors changed from dusty blue to violet black. The wind whipped across the grasslands. Throughout the day, clouds came and went, gathered and scattered. In the distance, lightning struck, and rain fell.

As I wrote, the sky became my metaphor for the page.

The morning skies ushered the sun, and my day began with hope. As my shoulders warmed, my writing worked. But later, I struggled for the correct word, the just-right sentence. Thoughts jammed inside my head like the clouds cramming together to block the sun.

I slammed my computer shut. The rain came. Finally, when the smell of sweet grass filled the air, a fresh idea, a different twist and take on the story, came to mind. My fingers flew across the keyboard as the shape of the sky transformed into something new, something breathtaking.

During my stay, the pattern of change repeated itself. When the rain arrived, or the sun seared, I took breaks. I played with crayons and read stories. I napped. When my thoughts struggled, I moved. I walked and ran and drove across the prairie, and eventually, new ideas appeared. Allowing myself space to stand back gave me and my work renewed life.

The Nebraskan sky spoke to me. I surrendered to its never-ending bursts and applied that to my work. I paid attention to the way the sky, my writing, and my life transformed throughout the day. Harmony. My work had its challenges, but like the sky, I had amazing moments, stretching far and wide.

Both beauty and words arrived.

 

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How to Say Goodbye in 10 Simple Steps

August 29, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When it comes to saying goodbye, I call BS. It’s not sweet; in fact, it sucks.

I’ve been forced to say a heartbreaking goodbye to my brother, who suffered a long slow death via AIDS. When a vessel burst in my dad’s brain, I whispered an equally sad yet surprising goodbye. I’ve said less permanent but still challenging farewells to hosts of others: friends and family; teachers and students; neighbors and co-workers. I’ve cried my heart out saying goodbye to beloved pets. Even harder, I’ve kissed away my children as they’ve flown into their new lives.

In addition to my personal struggle with parting’s sweet sorrow, my kids have been faced with their own good-byes; with each other, their friends, and the world they’ve always known. While stepping out and into a new life comes with great anticipation, excitement, and potential; it’s also scary, sad, and often riddled with anxiety.

When it comes to saying goodbye, I have few words of wisdom to offer. It doesn’t get easier, but I do know this; it happens—again and again. And avoiding its pain doesn’t work; grief always resurfaces. That said, there are a few things I’ve learned to help ease the process.

  1. Cry; sit with the pain and let yourself cry. Feel all the feels, but then get up. Both are equally important.
  2. Drink water; crying dehydrates.
  3. Be grateful; pick one thing a day and offer thanks.
  4. Walk in nature; it will whisper comfort.
  5. Run. Draw. Pound on a drum. Do something to channel your emotions.
  6. Hug an animal.
  7. Organizing shifts energy.
  8. If you have a garden, tend to it. If you don’t, buy a plant.
  9. Listen to music and read a book; any and all.
  10. Know that your feelings are normal. Know it is hard. Know you will survive.

Saying good-bye stinks, but it can be managed. Instead of burying the sadness, take care of yourself. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier.

 

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How Ursula K. Le Guin Taught Me to Keep Writing

August 23, 2018

When I stopped writing a column for our local paper, I stopped writing essays.

Big mistake.

I lied to myself, rationalizing reasons why. I stopped because I needed to focus on fiction writing. I stopped because I was too busy teaching. I stopped because of limited time left with teenagers at home. Mostly, I’d stopped writing essays because I didn’t know what to do with them and was plagued by self-doubt.

I questioned whether or not I should seek publication elsewhere, continue my blog, or squirrel the words away, stuffing them into a folder. I wasn’t sure where to focus. If I continued writing essays, did I need to concentrate on particular issues? Should I write about writing, about politics, about parenting or relationships or emotional hardships or my dog? Themes and thoughts triggered my words, but I left them floating adrift.

Perhaps, at the deepest level, I wondered if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. Who was my audience? Who cared?

Maybe no one.

But as days pushed by and words tackled pieces of my brain, begging to escape; I realized it didn’t matter. Writing essays, whether they were political rants or deep misgivings, gave me a therapeutic vent for my rambling thoughts. I needed a place to put my volatile emotions and passionate beliefs.

I recently read No time to Spare; Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection of blog posts and realized she wasn’t writing to anyone in particular. She had no consistent theme. She wrote about age, she wrote about her cat. Her words screamed, they whispered, they laughed. She clearly didn’t give a damn who read her written thoughts. She wrote them because she had no choice.

Although I enjoy teaching, writing fiction and crafting story is my life’s work. I care about plot and characters and theme. I want to publish, but for me, writing fiction is different than writing essays. I don’t care who reads my contemplations—but because I can’t stop them—why not write them anyway? With that knowing, I’ll continue my blog. I’ll publish on Medium. I’ll send a few letters to the editor. I may write haphazardly about ideas and issues; perhaps I’ll write weekly; maybe bi-monthly.

The only think I do know? I’m back writing essays.

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A Published link…

April 24, 2018

This was published on MEDIUM but the link’s not working so I’m republishing here.

View at Medium.com

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For a writer, late April often conjures up scenes of tulips and daffodils; poets whisper words about sweet smelling cherry blossoms, the taste of crisp asparagus, and the sound of evening birds singing goodnight. But not this April.

During my five days at a Getting to Know your Novelworkshop with Sarah Aronson at the Highlights Foundation, it rained like a Dublin downpour and snowed like a mid-winter blizzard. Every. Single. Day.

But just as Sarah promised, magic came anyway.

My time in Pennsylvania moved my writing and made me think harder, clearer, and deeper about my characters. I thought about their needs. I thought about mine. I shifted arcs, developed plot, and asked more questions. I met fantastic folks who stretched my beliefs about my book and pushed me further. Hopefully, I did the same for them. We arrived from various places: Chicago, Vermont, San Diego, Colorado, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and more. By the time we left, we had uncovered a common home at Highlights.

As weather pounded the roof and muddied the ground, we wrote. Sarah, and her team of teaching assistants, shared secrets and wisdom, inspiring us. We wrote more passages, talked craft, and edited work, while experiencing the writers’ buzz—the kind of buzz that causes one to stay up late and wake up early—only to repeat the experience. Each morning, we met with eager words, new ideas, and sometimes, a bit of frustration. However, when our red-inked pages turned on us, making us squeeze our eyes shut and silently scream; we had each other.

Highlights is more than a place; it’s an escape from ‘regular’ life. It’s a space to dive into a literary extravaganza. A writing community is essential for a writing life, and I’m grateful for all my teachers and partners in this process. By the end of the workshop, I had discovered some of Sarah’s sparkly glitter and the kind of magic a place like Highlights brings to the writer’s desk.

In each of our rooms, we found black notebooks filled with notes from other writers who had stayed at Highlights. I snapped a picture of someone’s quote from Seamus Heaney, summing up a Highlights experience.

The main thing is to write for the joy of it… Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

And I will.

 

 

 

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Ellie’s Flowers

October 25, 2016

This was printed in the Summit Daily News. It’s a reminder of the simple, good pieces of life, and because writers get lots of rejection, writing this helped me remember the positive.

Last month, my daughter came home from college for a brief 12 hours; long enough to do four loads of laundry, buy a few groceries, and eat a home-cooked meal. I’d like to say the reason she came was to see all of us, but it wasn’t. Not really. Her main purpose in returning was to show her roommate the Rocky Mountains in all their spectacular golden glory and to summit a peak.

The girls arrived late Saturday afternoon, enough time to do a little shopping and take photos before dinner. On the way to the grocery, we drove by Lake Dillon and showed off yet another Summit County gem. Ellie’s roommate, Becca, hails from the hills of Virginia—beautiful mountains in their own right, but no match for our massive peaks back dropped by a brilliant blue sky.

Becca snapped pictures. Once out of the car, she spun in circles, baffled by which direction to look. “It’s all so incredible,” she said, snapping more photos.

She’s right—we do live in an incredible place. Of course, we have our days: days of drizzle and sleet and snow that make it difficult to drive and too cold to move, but overall, living in Summit County is a privilege. Nature radiates in all directions.

After buying a few supplies for their dorm room, the girls planned to hike and take more photos before dinner. But first, Ellie said, she wanted to see one more thing, show off one more piece of Summit that she had missed while living in Boulder. I wasn’t sure what could be more beautiful than the mountains, the aspens or the sparking lake. But she knew: Frisco Main Street flowers.

During the summer, Ellie was a flower girl, employed by the Town of Frisco to water and weed. She spent eight hours a day working outside, sometimes alone, sometimes with a crew, but always taking care of the flowers.

“They’re still looking good,” she said, filled with obvious pleasure. To her, the boxes of geraniums and baskets of petunias that lined Main Street were pretty, worthy of pointing out. But they also represented something more. The flowers had grown and blossomed under her care. Ellie had nurtured them, and she found pride in their loveliness.

Although I love our mountains and breathtaking views, watching my daughter point out her beloved flowers made me rethink the definition of beauty. There’s no doubt that Summit County has a spectacular landscape, but beauty can be found in small, everyday matters. Taking ownership of one’s job or watching plants grow can provide insight and strength. Splendor found in the simple slices of life reminds us that even on the darkest of days, there is light.

The following morning, Ellie and Becca woke at 3:30 to climb Mt. Bierstadt. They made it to the summit by sunrise. Their pictures were spectacular, but so was their simple, celebratory milkshake at a diner down the road.

It’s hard to beat the brilliance one sees when climbing a mountain at dawn, but there are pieces to life, smaller and less obvious, that are equally lovely. Life’s everyday moments like smelling the flowers or enjoying a milkshake offer the opportunity to find beauty and significance everywhere.

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Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.

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Quotes!

June 29, 2016

 

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Barn with Art Installation at Djerassi

If you have that unconquerable urge to write, nothing will stop you from writing. –Theodore Dreiser

You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. – Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it. –Will Haygood

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. –Confucius