Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Doing without Doing

Students always ask about procrastination and writer’s block. Some feel laziness set  in.  What happens in the writer’s mind to prevent the word flow? Most of the time it centers around frustration and fear. The product appears more important than getting there. All of a sudden nothing happens. Anxiety takes over.

In Taoist literature a concept exists called wei wu wei. It translates “doing without doing.” With writing a conscious need to achieve presents at every moment. It often interrupts the process. When one relents and flows into the doing the anxiety clears and a deeper wisdom takes over. The mind and body create together without the angst about outcome.

How do we get there? Spend time watching bees or hummingbirds. They move from flower to flower. There’s no finish line, just doing and gathering.

Writers need a form of exercise to release frustration and train the mind, spirit and body. Runners, bicyclists or those who practice yoga, understand the “flow” that occurs when mind and body dissolve into movement. One step at a time, one pose into another, one revolution of the pedals and process takes over. The breath assists to create a rhythm and the brain releases chemicals to drown the frustration and fear.

How do you translate this to writing?

Regardless of your mood, pick up the pen or tap the keys. Explore your relationship to writing. Discover what to say while writing to say it. The mental uncertainties will clear and you will move deeper into the experience. Suspense energizes and will reveal meaning.

Create Write: What troubles you the most about writing? Spend time in exercise, then return to the paper or keyboard. Write for 15 minutes without stopping. Suspend judgments and feel the freedom.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teasing Daisies

Daisies tease beyond the chainlink.

Where is the poem?

Become a puppeteer and dangle observations on nature’s stage, eavesdrop on human nature and add emotion. Search for surprises and how the man-made world and nature co-exist or conflict. A reciprocity develops in personal ideas and philosophy danced upon the outside world and then pulled back inside.

If it’s hiding
search for it
in a spider’s dream
or web of twilight.

You might find one
in lemony shadows
that attach to ladybugs

Consider it
in the moon’s crackle
blinking past pines.

Discover moments
before stars sprinkle
dusk with a promise

of what we most need.

Where does a poem come from? It glistens at the crossroads of preparation and possibility, muscled from writing practice to the moment observed.

Creative Write: Today search for a poem. You may need to dig in your garden and look under a few rocks.

Beyond Abstractions

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Your soul is often a battlefield upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.”

This example reveals an opportunity the writer did not take. When Gibran began his notion of the soul, he used the metaphor of a battlefield and then explained about waging war inserting four abstractions. He could have defined each further by example.

We may connect with his reasoning but still need details and realistic pictures in words to understand his meaning of reason, judgment, passion and appetite.

As writers we need to communicate to the reader our point of view through metaphor, imagery and details. Because we come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, the above words create different reactions. We need to show examples of complex emotions to give the reader a clue to our intentions.

One person’s reason might become another’s wrong. Judgment becomes another issue. Who’s the judge? Passion and appetite have potential for images also.

Creative Write:  What does reason look like? How could you show it in action? See where you can take these four abstractions, either together or separately.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Time and Change

Suppose that time is not a quantity but a quality, like the luminescence of the night above the trees just when a rising moon has touched the tree line. . . In a world where time is a quality, events become recorded by the color of the sky, the tone of the boatman's call on the Aare, the feeling of happiness or fear when a person comes into a room.  -- from Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Flying over the Cascade Range from Eugene to San Diego, clouds form glaciers that slide into fjords in the valleys below. Shadows on the mountains tease peaks into faces. Brow ridges and noses appear in smiles or scowls. When we enter gauze that envelopes the plane in eerie light, I expect Stephen King’s tap at the window.

During these experiences, time evaporates for me. Digitals or hands that twirl in round clocks make no impact on my senses. I escape beyond its demands. Time leaves me alone as I walk through the airport and into the humid San Diego air.

Nostalgia for the autumn just ripening in Eugene toys with my senses.  When I return in November, winter’s fingers will tug at branches and scatter magenta, pumpkin and butterscotch leaves along the streets and sidewalks. The locust trees will turn into fish skeletons outside my window. Moss will comfort branches in preparation for the cold days ahead.

During October, I will search for autumn in San Diego and revel at each new color.

Creative Write: How do you deal with time or seasonal changes? or Describe your favorite season in sensory imagery.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Observe the drawing above and use your imagination to create uncommon uses for pens, pencils, paper clips, safety pins, clothes pins and feathers. 

What five ways would you use a feather?  To tickle someone's fancy.  To row a boat to help a frog across the pond. To dip into magenta ink and write your passion into words. To amaze a bee.  To tuck under your pillow and dream of flying.

A paper clip fascinates in its design.  If uncurled, could it attract signals from somewhere in the Universe? What will it become if combined with a pencil or clothes pin?  Create a vehicle to transport you beyond the sea.

Creative Write: Take the opportunity to write a story about the drawing above.  How will the objects behave in uncertain ways?

Take Time to Play with Words

My friend, Critter, at play.

Write 25 questions or random thoughts each day to stimulate your creativity. Begin, "Today, it occurs to me . . . I wonder . . ." Don't stop writing until you reach 25. Let those wild fingers go.

l. Today the sounds of water and tapping keys make me consider
   how laughter affects the weather.

2. I wonder why coffee brewing arouses my sense of smell
    more than tasting it.

3. Flying geese make sounds like rusty hinges when
    they fly overhead.

4. I wonder what happened the first time someone looked up at the stars.

5. Will we overpopulate the other universes and trash them also?

6. Does the sun hold his breathe when he dips behind the sea?

7. Are people naturally negative and need to hold vertical poles to make pluses out of their flat lines?

8   Maybe the earth is twirling faster than our brains.

9. I wonder how many writers made words from alphabet soup?

10. The moon looked like someone had taken a bite out of it but it still splashed light on my wall.

11. The lizards are everywhere in all sizes. How do they run faster than I do?

12. I advised students to take their characters to the zoo and it helped.

13. The cantalope loped down my throat.

14. Everyone needs to take a partial day of "fallow."

15. It takes discipline to become playful.

16. Why must we give up our childlike engagements with life?

17. Good habits need more encouragement. They work hard too.

18. Imagine taking a train for several hours and writing until your fingers cramp.

19. Do trees snicker when we pass?

20. Do seahorses think about racing or pulling chariots?

21. Who invented how to eat artichokes?

22. I'd like to chat with my parents for a day about what they miss most about life.

23. Oh for a thick, butterscotch malt with chunks of coconut in it.

24. Do pigeons get dizzy from their heads jiggling when they walk?

25. What causes bubbles?

Creative Write:
How many poems or story starts can you generate from your one-liners? What if you combine three and see where they go? Circle three, then three more. Really play with your daily notions.

Ponds of Possibility

- Rene Magritte

We need enchantment, fun and wonder in life and in our poetry. Why not incorporate elements that mix illusion with the every day life? Let unlikely images collide. Weave dreams with logic. We can get our imaginative motors going by reading science fiction or fantasy and observing the elements in surreal painting.

Andre Breton felt dreams can open us to a “superior reality.” His ideas created a definition of surreal. Or what he termed, “psychic automation.” He encouraged free writing to discover the connections.

Rene Magritte created a variety of subjects this way. He painted a rock suspended over the sea, fish people on a rock, a locomotive coming out of the chimney under a clock. How did he make these ideas work to test our curiosity? View his website and write to his paintings.

Leap into ponds of possibility by trying out new muscles in your writing. Search for untouched areas you have never explored.  Move beyond the regular, expected and known imagery.  Shift your probabilities.  Color an alternative reality.

The Color Blue

What if
midmorning sky
sneaks into café tableware
tricked by the color blue.
Clouds dance on plates
grazing the toast and jelly
like newborn lovers
whose toes never
touch the earth
until familiarity
vacuums the crumbs
sending clouds back
to where
they are supposed
to belong.
                 - Penny Wilkes

Creative Write:
Try an exercise that pushes logic and reason aside. Let your subconscious mind or dreams provide a playground. Connect objects and notions that you would not expect to see together.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Penning Beyond the Ninjas

In the fourth century, Euripides a Greek playwright, promoted word power with, ”The tongue is mightier than the blade.” In Hamlet Act 2, scene II, Shakespeare wrote, “many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton etched eternal, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. When he played The Joker in Batman, Jack Nicholson threw a poison quill into someone’s neck. The powerful pen concept has seen constant use in communicating the force of language.

All writers face beasts that sap word power. We find them disguised in a variety of costumes. Often we have to discover how to conquer them in ways beyond disciplining ourselves to write.

Beginning as well as experienced writers can discipline all day to sit in the seat and write. Yet, they might not have the insights and writing security or understanding of how to push the texts beyond what exists in their own points of view.

How do we develop techniques to gain fresh perspections (perception plus perspective)? The F words - fear, failure, frustration - will always loom and attack like Ninjas. The E words - ego, excuses, and energy level - lurk in shadows and dreams. We need to stoke writing energy by using the positive E’s: eyes, ears and enthusiasm to reach beyond Ego’s involvement in the story. This requires more than revision or re-vision. It involves another R word – Risk.

How do we create our own warriors-with-a-pen and write past the Ninja swords?

Colored marker pens will assist during the revision process. Use green to highlight active nouns and verbs. Use red for “be” verb repetitions: is, am, was, were. Take blue for the action in the story or poem. Highlight all that flows. Use yellow to reveal areas where you tell the reader too much or use abstractions like love, death, fear, or rage.

Creative Write:   Keep your pen moving beyond the battles. Take the risks needed to make your pen the conqueror.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Make it a YES! Day

It concerns me that  NO!  rates as the most overused word in the English language. I overhear it everywhere these days. Why?  Yes! resounds with optimism and probably elicits stronger connections to positive action.

During a morning visit to the Volkswagen Dealer’s waiting room, I observed a mother and her three year old son.  She babbled not to do this and that whenever he moved. She then turned on the t.v. and spent ten minutes telling him, “NO” as his fingers kept turning it off.  Several other clients sent glares her direction when he kept playing his sound board’s train whistle, despite her NO! repetitions. Who provided the conditioning here?  Where did her creativity and ability to problem solve disappear?  How about trying a little distraction instead of negativity?
I watched in silence wanting to provide a positive moment for this overly  “No’d” child.  I’d release him from anxiety and escort his energy across the street to a park. Nature could teach him notions about the world his mother could only view from a negative side.
Rachel Carson in Sense of Wonder detailed an afternoon spent at the beach.  Her grandson experienced the world of nature with all his senses. He taught her to delve into a learning experience.   I’ll bet she flung Yeses! at him during the adventure.

Nature writers have published books that reveal why children need wild places. These authors show how children with a lot of energy can benefit from immersion in a natural setting.  Gary Nabhan’s The Geography of Childhood,  Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder and David Sobel’s Childhood and Nature. Design Principles for Educators should become required reading for physicians and parents before any medicating begins.

Children need the activity and comfort that interacting with plants, trees and animals offers. If parents also become involved in the natural world, they will learn ways to assist the child. Their ability to award them with a YES!  may also increase.

Driving home, I saw the bumper sticker that made my day:  Wag More. Bark Less.

Creative Write:
  Describe an experience finding YES! today.

Autumn Morning

Today I tried to run faster than the gray squirrels.  I can’t believe they can stay ahead of my strides.  They cheat, of course, and race up a tree when I begin to overtake them.  I doubt they could outlast me on today’s six mile run.  They don’t even follow me over the bridge to the duck and heron ponds.

Summer plays tug-a-war with fall for the last days of sunshine. In five days, fall has sneaked up on summer. Leaflets on the Honey Locust trees have turned golden by my window.  They fall into the spiders’ vertical lines and twirl in front of my door. Sugar Maples have started to shoot their magenta, orange and lemon hues to scare the green away. A crisp in the breeze invites the clusters of leaves to bounce and play tag along the sidewalks. Apples, pears and huckleberries have ripened and look ready to eat.

For me, autumn represents change, abundance and a time to express gratitude. With nature exploding its wonder all around me, I appreciate the subtle aspects of life that stimulate my creativity and enthusiasm for every moment in movement. Of course, I become energized during Oregon Duck football season.
Creative Write: What does the changing season represent to you? Connect it with memories or emotions. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Your Writing Muscles

Writers have stories to tell and the passion and compulsion to share them. Like any athlete in training, it becomes vital to discover your writing potential.

Your personality, patience and mental muscles suit you for a type of writing. Discovering strengths in terms of how long you like to write and the length of your writing will help you decide what to write.

Novelists have marathon muscles.  They know they have a long road ahead and must prepare themselves both physically and mentally for chapter after chapter.

Essayists and short story writers have shorter jaunts ahead.

Poets have a sprinter's mindset.

Writers have the ability to develop all muscle groups to challenge themselves in a variety of genres.  Experience teaches which suits your style.

Creative Write: Take a look at your potential for writing novels, short stories, essays or poetry.  Try them all!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Struggle as Writing Exercise

A few years ago, I raised Painted Lady butterflies and marveled at their progressive stages of life.  When the containers arrived, the creatures appeared like crinkled staples. Already plumping with growth during my drive home from the Post Office, they began spinning the next day.

Silver bits threaded the cup which helped them move to eat and eat, the brochure said.  Each day they wriggled and gobbled the brown nutrient at the bottom of the container. It reminded me of how I gorge myself with reading on a vareity of subjects during a writing project. I search my shelves for writers whose words inspire.  Munch. Munch. Munch.

Within a few days my friends crawled from the bottom to hang at the top of the container like question marks.  They climbed their Everest "head first," grew fuzzy and began to curl  into the chrysalis stage.  I feel this way when I'm snug in the middle of my writing.  Time passes as I hang in and stay buoyant.

It's a good metaphor to use with friends who constantly ask, "What are you working on now?"

"I'm in the chrysalis stage!"

In the next stage my butterflies-in-training did their best work.  They shed old body parts to form the colors of orange and black.  At first they looked like golden leaves or  pea pods. In this resting position, their wings pumped to full size until they broke through the exoskeleton.

A red coloring dripped from each. This meconium, or leftover coloring and tissue, dried after wing formation. It smelled like fountain pen ink and scented my office.   After the wings hardened, the Painted ladies danced on the floor of the butterfly habitat. After enjoying them for a day, I released them into my garden.

Each butterfly must struggle out ot its tight package for the wings to form correctly. I learned this the hard way when I tried to save one. Because I helped it out of the sack it never grew wings. Butterflies like writers have to struggle on their own to develop in the best way possible.  Although it lasted as long as the others and moved about the cage, it never experienced the glory of flight.

The word, struggle, can represent a variety of conditions from physical and emotional discomfort to frustration at not achieving a writing goal. What takes its place if we give up on something too soon? Do we tend to push for the result before examining all the possibilities of the process? Do we know when to stop doing what we’re doing that does not work and try something different

With writing, struggle exists as part of the process. For butterflies it's just a "bind" before growth, never a block. No one can help us through it. We learn about ourselves during our efforts. It's all right to feel unhappy with a messy draft. Jumping into the writing process itself will always assist the struggle because we become active and moving toward something.

My amazement with writing results from what my subconscious feeds upon and pushes to the surface. I never cease to thrill from the experience writing provides.

Creative Write:
This week, let your fingers hit the keys or push the pen with new vigor. Become determined to benefit from the struggle in your process. Engage all your senses and write with abandon. It doesn’t have to come out right if you just write!  Write about the struggle.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Technological Overload?

This week during final poses in yoga class, a woman on a cell phone started her rant outside our studio. I decided it’s only energy and continued to breathe and focus on my poses. I inhaled the room’s scent of jasmine and picked up sounds of passing cars like ocean waves. Even the brakes of a bus sssushing to a halt across the street turned to pure energy in my mind.

I will use these images during times of disruption. The ability to return to my core strength and use the breath, mind and body will assist in future situations.

After class I thought about the onslaught of our technological world. We absorb so much stimulation with cell phones, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, Blogs and Web-t.v.   In one day we receive the effects of communication that took individuals a year to experience during the 1900’s.

Do we have attention deficit issues because the human body rebels from the technological stimulation we absorb in our lives?

Nearly four decades ago, Alvin Toffler warned about information overload in Future Shock and The Third Wave. John Naisbitt questions where technology lures us in  High Tech. High Touch.

Writing by hand will help us return to simple. Take time each day to interrupt your technological bonding. Remove the earbuds and listen to the songs of birds and search for a rustle of leaves. Crush leaves and inhale their scents. Feel the wind across your arms and day dream with  hand written pages instead of texting on cell phones and computers. Take a notepad for a walk and record the world outside.

Breathe in nature’s refreshment and free your imagination. You will gain more emotional energy when you connect with the basic elements of natural energy patterns.

Creative Write: After a break and an immersion in nature, write a story about returning home to discover all your devices have disappeared. How will you communicate?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Finding Your Funny Bone

Defining humor and how to write about it creates the first challenge. Humor relates directly to the sensitivity of one’s funny bone for the nuances in life. The discovery of humor in unlikely situations takes talent.

What makes me laugh might not do the same for someone else. I don’t give up a chance to make a humorous connection in my search for silly because laughter’s my buddy. I humor on.

Humor must have evolved as a survival skill. Imagine primal humans hunting all day and suddenly a
sabre-toothed tiger charged from behind a bush. One hunter said to the other, “Distract him while I run back to the fire and get help.”   Almost any situation can lead to a twinge of humor . . . for someone.

Dave Barry, a universally appealing humor writer, feels humor relates to fear and despair. The series, M*A*S*H, delved into these stressors of life and played with dark humor. Having the ability to add a humorous twist to any tragic situation, Shakespeare must have had strong stomach muscles from chuckling as he wrote. Even scientific research has shown the benefits of laughter in the healing process.

If we didn’t have laughter to keep us buoyant in a world that twirls way beyond our control, gravity certainly would keep us grounded. We need to stimulate our funny bones to release fears and anxieties. As Dave Barry says about humor writing, “A, keep it moving, and B, spend a lot of time writing it. And C, after you're done, show it to somebody.” I’d add, show it to someone who likes to laugh.

Creative Write: Find humor in a serious situation. Lewis Grizzard said when you write humor, you only have to look at the world from the front of your eyelids forward and soon you’ll see something funny to write about.

Listening Skills

They don't listen
when he says he travels with ghosts
his head down, alone with his tracks.

They don't listen to his needs.
He rejects an engineer's view
since sunset's glare blinds him.

Learning listening skills requires patience and silence. Avoid using your voice to fill empty spaces in conversation.

Sit in a friendly chair. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out. Listen to sounds with full awareness.

At first, you will classify sounds as an airplane, car passing, or bird's chirp. Listen beyond the harshness of garbage trucks and jack hammers. Defining the sound removes you from it. If you concentrate long enough eventually you will let the labels go and notice only the energy.

Imagine listening to another person in this way without judgment or the need to push your views before the other finishes speaking. Try it!
Creative Write:  Spend fifteen minutes listening to one side of a conversation you usually interrupt to clarify your view. What happens when the other speaks without your comments?  Write about the experience.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's Time for Fall Spinners

I admire spiders. If you have an aversion to them, please do not continue reading.

Once a babysitter tried to make me fear them. Pointing to a creature that ambled in front of us, she wriggled her nose, made frightening fingers and yelled, “Icky. Icky” at my face.

At that impressionable age (hers), I felt determined no one would tell me what to like or dislike. I had to show, not tell, so I picked up the spider and put it on my tongue. I thrust both at her. She ran and never had to care for me again. Her shrieks still reverberate.

Ever since that bonding episode, I have enjoyed a communication with spiders. I marvel at their creativity and have spent hours watching web spinning.

Each fall, orange spiders the size of nickels weave their food nets on the corners of my house and attach to branches along front and side paths. When we had to eliminate termites from the house, I felt concerned for the spiders’ safety and called the zoo to see if they would take them overnight. A chuckle erupted on the phone.

Maybe they could rest in a fish bowl? I could transport them to the motel we had to live in during the process. How would they eat?

Finally, one morning I awakened to a notion that if I asked them to leave for a week or so, they might understand. Why not give it a try? I explained to each spider the situation. Stay and you take your chances with the termite ”evacuation” or leave and return when it’s safe. As I spoke to them, I also advised the termites they had options but one did not include return. They needed to find other places to spin.
I talked to twelve spiders in residence. In response, several days before the tenting only empty webs remained. Within two weeks they returned, their bodies plump and webs more glorious than before. I do have witnesses to attest to my efforts.

When new spiders arrive each autumn, I make requests. “Please move your webs higher by the front door, or to the sides of the paths. Then humans will not damage them and ruin your dinner.” I only have to ask once and they comply.

Creative Write: Write about an amazement you have encountered in nature.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Autumn's Signals

Reversing my ancestors' process,   I've spent a lot of time climbing and thinking in trees. During my Pasadena childhood, oaks, maples, magnolias, and sycamores offered clues to the seasonal shifts. While residents from eastern states termed California a "mono" climate, I learned to sense the beginnings of each season.

Within a kaleidoscope of subtlety, I have always felt sensations when one season scooted into the next.

In San Diego I have discovered autumn's early arrival. This visual guidepost accompanies my sense of seasonal change. Before the summer heat relents to crisp mornings, the ivy moves into oranges, yellows and scarlets. 

Today, with the humidity of early morning, I had a hunch my indicator would reveal autumn tugging at summer's toes for cooling temperatures.  Lower on the wall, leaves have started to gather in twos and threes. By early October their palette will overwhelm the green. Sounds will turn to crisp and crackle.  With a hint of cedar, smoke will coil from chimneys.

Autumn signals change regardless of its intensity. Like the leaves that exchange green for color, we have defunct habits or life circumstances to release also.  One cycle ends, another begins.  A fresh page for writers appears where we can provide color with all our senses.

Creative Write:
  Write your observations of seasonal shifts.