Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Taste Your Writing

What could an apple do for your writing? Pay close attention.

Discover the colors that circulate around an apple: red, yellow, orange, a tinge of green. Does the stem pull out or must you twist it several times? Hold it to your nose and breath in its scent. What memories arise? Feel the skin texture when you take an apple from the refrigerator beaded with moisture.

Bite into it and observe the impression your teeth create on the white flesh. Do you see red veins inside? Feel the texture and the squirts of saliva as your cheeks suck inward from reaction to the tart flavor. Observe the change in fragrance as you chew. Notice a liquid release, then the after taste. Let your tongue mingle with the apple's skin bits and succulence. Feel the texture on your teeth. Examine a swallow. Notice the apple until you lose its sensation as it enters the stomach.

Consider a variety of apple experiences. What if you bit into a mushy apple or one with a worm's tunnel? Will you eat around a brown spot? Sprinkle slices with cinnamon and clove. Do you prefer a Delicious, Granny Smith or New Zealand?

What could you combine with the apple to enhance the flavor? Will cheddar cheese raise the taste buds and coat the tongue? Add raisins and cranberries. Describe ways sweet intervenes.

Creative Write:
Try an orange or peach. Experience them and write with connections to early memories. Write about discovering how to peel a banana. Imagine the first person to eat pomegranate seeds.

Dazzled by Words

Photography stimulates my initial stages of idea formation. During travel, I notice how a tourist snaps pictures, trying to capture experience and not getting anything beyond the lens. It takes the senses to explore the layered history or the emotions of the moment.

My cell phone camera helps me capture details to accompany with words. The images engage my spirit and blend with the swirling notions in my head.

I appreciate the poetics of Federico Garcia Lorca, the gypsy poet of Southern Spain. Lorca wrote an essay, “Theory and Play of Duende” suggesting most artists search for perfection at the cost of a need for struggle - duende. This force, not an angel or Muse, becomes more of an “energetic instinct.” A writer may have the voice, the style, and the ability but will never triumph unless duende resides within. All through Andalucia, people speak of duende and recognize it when it happens. It is a spirit that is more than one’s spirit.

Lorca does not want to confuse the duende with demons or devils, or as a destructive force. He says, “I mean, secret and shuddering…” Where the angel dazzles and the Muse dictates, surges from outside of us. The duende has “to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood. Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles.” Emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende.

Lorca told about a singer who had to send away her muse and become helpless. And how she sang! "She was able to kill all the scaffolding of the song and leave way for a furious, enslaving duende, friend of the sand winds who made the listeners rip their clothes off.” It is the marrow of forms, the pure music. Duende also means a radical change to all the old kinds of form, “totally unknown and fresh sensations with the qualities of a newly created rose.” Each person finds something new that no one had seen before, that could give life and knowledge.

Lorca ends his essay discussing three arches, which have within them the Muse, the angel and the duende. “ Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odor of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.”

When asked why he wrote, “A thousand tambourines of crystal wounded the light of day break,” he replied, “I will tell you I save them in the hands of trees and angels, but I cannot say more. I cannot explain their meaning and that is how it should be. Through poetry a man quickly reaches the cutting edge that the philosopher and mathematician silently turn away from.”

As a poet, I have experienced a thrill that transported me beyond my understanding and expectation. When the mind becomes fueled by uneasiness on the edge of discovery or the rowdiness of creation, the writing takes flight. Once one has felt the rush a sense remains that it will return. In this state, all senses expand and melody flows through the body. Not knowing its next visitation will provoke the search for a variety of ways to coax it back. If the timing is not right and it tries to escape, one grasps only air. Yet, having it for a moment engages the highest form of communion with the self.

I seek the edge of helplessness in order to write with my greatest force. Often I cannot explain the meaning. For me, and I hope the reader, the feelings of wonder remain beyond the language and the story.

Creative Write: Write a statement of poetics. How do you define your dazzlement with words?

The Wisdom of Well-Being

Seagulls write their musings across the sky. Do they vacation from the need to fly?

Many friends and students ask - When do you take a vacation from writing? I laugh and advise them that writing accompanies me everywhere. Without it, I would miss my well-being. Vertigo would take over and upset my balance.

Writing glides with me during morning runs, while in line at the super market, and in the twilight time just before sleep. In one way or another, I'm always collecting and collating words. My senses stay in awareness mode for bits of conversation, amusements in nature and the wisdom discovered around a curve in the road.

It becomes more challenging while driving my car. I have a dashboard notepad but find it better to pull over if several notions strike at once.In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reports that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something. For a writer that just scratches the surface. Discoveries and learning occur in every waking moment and during dream time.

It takes discipline and the distraction of sensory experience to awaken a writer's rhythm. Life surrounds us with words to choose for exploration.Why would anyone need a vacation from the thrills that writing provides?

Create Write: Set a date to write for an extended period of time. Designate a portion of one day for a "writer's retreat." Prepare before the date with books and writing ideas. Then write on and on!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Runnin' and Writin'

If sentences run along like this bamboo, where's the thrill? Add spice!

Write like a moving camera to take in the scenery and tease each moment. Let the reader experience your subject as you go. Don't tell everything. Add the spice of sound and scent along the way. Color the greenery with delphiniums, roses and a daisy.

Spark vitality and add texture when you taste the honeysuckle. Mix and match short and long sentences. This gives the reader a breather. Avoid the use of too many "to be" verbs in sentence after sentence.

Promise yourself to avoid "is" "am" "was" "were" and "ings" for a day.

Adjectives and adverbs sprout like weeds among the "beautiful" flowers. They choke the essence from nouns and verbs that drive the sentences. Why write "beautiful" when you can show the iris float above its stalk like a banner in the wind?

Listen to bird songs and see if you can duplicate the trills on the page. Show the ping of water that splashes in a fountain.

Creative Write: Take a walk and record like a camera. Return home and write from your discoveries.


The creative process requires exploration, joy, confusion and revelation. Revision moves in rollercoaster peaks and dips. Nothing about the 'courage to create,' as Rollo May calls it, moves in a linear fashion. Most scientific and creative breakthroughs occur during the rest period after intense work.

The mind needs to percolate ideas. Synapses require relief from constant firing.I love discovering a spark and attracting others until the fire blooms into focus. At some point the focus requires more writing and word choices. I prefer to 'dwell in possibility' (thanks Emily Dickinson for the line) forever. Play time keeps me searching and making connections. Words badger me like rust that never rests. I also realize intensity requires a rest period while the process continues its diverse ways.

In yoga we have rest poses for a reason in between those that push the mind and body. After working on a project, I force myself to relent. Of course with a click of the computer button, the words still shriek and pound their fists in my head. I rest by running in natural setting and photographing ideas. Cat naps after reading passages of sensory writing also assist.

Upon returning to tame the words into less rambunctious behavior, I'm refreshed; brain connections rewired.

Creative Write: With a project that requires revision, put the pages in a drawer or save your file and turn off the computer. Get as far away as you can. Give yourself a break and rest or divert from the words. When you return, you'll amaze yourself.

Fish out of water

We make choices every moment. It becomes our basis for empowerment. When viewing the above photograph, it's obvious that someone made a choice. A barrel for discards stood inches away.

If each person took responsibility for his or her air space and discards, a clean world would flow around us. Instead, a cigarette butte here, facial tissue or toothpick there and soon the landscape takes on a cluttered appearance.People ignore trash on the street rather than picking it up and tossing it into a container. Why?

I observed a mother stop her car and let her son out. He approached a man putting trash into a bush and said in a polite tone, "Sir you dropped this." Why do we need to remind one another?

The Story of Stuff - www.storyofstuff.com/index - reveals the process of goods production through utilization and disposal. We need to take a long look at our individual impact in this system. We're all a part of the Web of Life and have a responsibility.

Creative Write: Write a Letter to the Editor with a solution to enlighten others about our disposable economy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Black Phoebes

Black Phoebes won my attention when we moved to an apartment complex during our home remodel several years ago. I discovered a park next door and decided to spend an hour each day observing and writing about nature with all my senses. I sat under a sycamore tree in late summer and waited.

Above my head, a black bird cleaned its beak. Then it flew to a lamp post and off into the ivy behind me. Each day for a week, I observed this fellow in action. One day I brought a seed bell and hung it under the bird's sycamore branch thinking I'd attract even more of its friends.

I searched the internet and discovered the Black Phoebe fit the description of the behavior I had observed. My seed bell must have caused a snicker in the bird community since these birds only eat and catch insects on the fly. Called hawking, they fly from from sunrise to sunset eating all day with the tenacity of a hummingbird. I've seen them capture bees and moths for dining pleasure.

Phoebes move in a circular pattern in their territory and work harder than anyone I know. In the spring, they pair and create a nest from mud, one beakful at a time. The male stands guard and often sits the nest in rotation with his mate.

I discovered the conical nest high in the eaves of our apartment building. The next stage involved nesting behaviors. Resident crows became aggressive causing both phoebes to take turns chasing them causing disruption to their feeding ritual. I heard peepings but could not see how many chicks had arrived. Unfortunately, I left on a trip for two weeks.

Upon my return to the park, I did not see the pair I'd named Flash and Fee. The nest appeared vacant and no peepings sounded. I felt a sudden fear that the crows had taken over during my absence. Then I looked at the center of the park to discover four phoebes. They took turns dancing on air. I crept closer and watched this marvel of flight training.

After returning to our renovated home, I searched the neighborhood for Black Phoebes. I missed this daily association. This spring I discovered a pair at the end of the block. They had placed their nest under a neighbor's eaves. Once again I left town and missed the fledging.

I continue to create water sources in my yard to attract my favorite Black Phoebes. One day a breeding pair will return to capture my fascination.

Creative Write: Describe a discovery in a natural setting.

Teach Writing?

When teaching a new community of writers, I discover ways to engage their minds concerning process, technique and possibilities. My creativity stretches into myriad shapes. Do I "teach" writing, coax or coach students into the habits of a writer?

When asked if he could teach writing, John Steinbeck indicated a teacher could not turn a pig into a race horse but could get a faster pig. I've never liked that analogy and have searched for a better one for years.

Most students feel that effort means result. "I've worked so hard," they claim. "Why shouldn't I get an A for effort?"

There's a sign over the locker room door that leads to the football stadium at the University of Oregon. Players glance up before they enter the tunnel to read:Today, give everything you have. What you keep, you lose forever.

Everyone runs on the field with good intentions.Those in the stadium will not observe the preparation, struggle and hard work each player has brought to that day's game. Fans only see the results on the field. Each player knows what it takes to win and what needs work when errors occur.

Writing requires more than good intentions also. It's not always the effort that produces results. Quality increases when creativity combines with an understanding of the fundamental aspects of writing. If a writer has a great idea but cannot communicate with proper grammar, syntax, and style it goes unnoticed. If a story lacks the scaffolding to hold its parts, it falls short.

During the writing process, a writer learns that it takes time to nurture and sustain a writing habit. Life skills develop beyond intention and hard work. I believe that optimal results come from learning the writing basics, studying other writers and practice, practice, practice. Rather than thinking about pigs and horses, I'd rather encourage students to become like Aesop's tortoise that keeps moving and beats the hare.

Shoes Meet the Shadow Dragon

Deep in flow during my morning run, I noticed shimmers from what seemed like a tree and leaves. They spangled the sidewalk as I rounded a corner. The crackles in pavement darkened and wind aroused a scent of pikaki, cedar and rose. I stopped, my shoes tantalized by a creature moving ahead on the pavement.

The fellow's eyes sparkled like peridots.His snout opened into a smile that breathed honeysuckle and pine.

"Where did you come from?" my New Balance pair asked.

The dragon stretched his neck and sang, "I wander beneath these streets and wonder what goes on when I hear the pounding of sound."

"Isn't it dreary and dark down there?" one shoe said.

"Beneath the roots you discover new realms. I dive beyond the dark into tangerine and magenta swirls. Sparks of silver dissolve into the next layer. Ah, that's where the land of curiosities exists."

The second sole brightened all its eyelets, "May we visit with you?"

"Hmmm," the Shadow Dragon wriggled its mane, "I've never invited an abovegrounder. Meet me at the corner of Marine Street on Monday."

Creative Write: Have fun and see where this will lead.

Curiosity Peeking

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

- Albert Einstein

Even the rose wants to explore beyond the fence.During childhood, I asked so many questions my father created stories he thought would satisfy my curiosity. Even then he often fell asleep before my questions stopped arriving like thunderbolts.
He never said, "I don't know." Even when I had him perplexed, he'd launch into an explanation to cover the topic. Many years later I learned a bidet really wasn't a footbath. Endowed with curiosity, everything in life becomes possible. Linked with optimism and creativity, curiosity pushes limits.
Ways to heighten your natural gift of curiosity:

1. Stay open to possibilities. Nurture the ability to change your mind, unlearn and relearn.
2. Ask questions like a reporter: Who, What, Why, When, Where, How? Don't feel content with easy answers. Ask more questions.
3. Curious individuals never feel bored. Take advantage of 'empty time' like standing in line. Observe what's going on around you. Notice people's choices and listen. Writers always carry notepads.
4. Become a perpetual learner. Make learning fun and seek beyond the obvious.
5. Read diverse publications and books. Explore what you don't know with a free mind.
Creative Write: Describe in detail your first memory of curiosity. Recall it with all your senses.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writing Detours

Today on my running route, a Black Phoebe teased me to the tidepools. I followed, camera ready to capture its image flying ahead then landing in a 'photo op' pose. Crabs skittered into crevasses while minnows evaded focus. I felt like the butterfly chaser in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim. Butterflies elude him until he relents and sits on a rock. Then he hears the flutter and the butterfly alights on his shoulder.

Nothing stood still long enough regardless of my search for a "find." Scampering among rocks never explored before, I breathed in the salt air, noticed and relented to the experience.

Too often writers chase words. How slippery they become when we focus on their containment. If writers move with awareness, observe and let the moments unfold, words will arrange in unexpected imagery. The landscape will fill with new adventures for our pens to capture. We need the detour from ordinary and appreciation of the moments in movement.

Creative Write:
Take a detour today and write about it.