Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Moment of Awe

In Japanese, the term, “yugen” approaches an appreciation for the subtle and profound. It can exist in a suggestion such as a few brush strokes or through images in words. Something arouses an awakening of inner thoughts and feelings.

A moment of awe may arouse a reverence for nature. The next level requires an expression in words.

During a morning run by the Willamette river, I heard a rustle in the bushes followed by a splash behind me. An osprey lifted from the water with a trout in its talons. It flew so near I felt the air stirred by wings, then a reflection from its eyes.

When the bird sailed by, my eyes caught the attention of a woman riding her bicycle toward me. We connected in the next exchange of a series we knew no camera could capture.

Creative Write: Write about a moment of awe and all its connections.

Questions for the Learning Process

Does the ginkgo exclaim how hard it works during autumn?  Do you hear shrieks of exasperation?  Of course not.  It goes about its business of treeness and pushes its auxins. The yellow floods its leaves, then they drop and illustrate the street. 

Why does the notion exist among human beings that effort equals result?  It reminds me of the "Little League" mentality that everyone gets a trophy for hard work.  What happens when a batter swings at the third pitch and misses?  He's out!  It doesn't matter how hard he tried.  The effort did not produce a result.

As a professor of writing, I receive many comments from students concerning effort. When a student's "hard work" does not translate into a satisfying grade, a variety of concerns follow.  "I've always received A's," becomes a mantra at the end of a grading period.  "I've worked so hard my brains feel like scrambled eggs," another student claims. 

I read the product. It either shows a result or it doesn't.

In the publishing world, editors cannot observe the effort put into a piece of writing.  They judge the words that bounce upon the page. The black squiggles either hold their attention or they don't.  In the construction business, if a carpenter works all day measuring, cutting, hammering and at the end of the day looks up to see the windows sag, corners don't match up and in one rain the roof will leak, does he say, "I worked so hard?"  No!  He can see that he needed to focus on the details.

Why do students not want to make mistakes when learning a new skill?  Failure assists the process if learning occurs. Success comes from feeling comfortable with risk and error.

Imagine the man who loves to work with his hands. He carves boxes designed with robins and roses. Purchasers love his work. One day he decides to take a ceramics class to learn how to throw pots. He spends four weeks throwing clay and the pots lean right and left. Some have thin sides and heavy bases. The wheel races, his fingers slipping in the water. Drippings cover him with gray. He's worked so hard with his hands but this new procedure defies his understanding. The result does not represent his accomplishments of the past. What has he learned from the process?  He thought he could just crank it out as an artist but did not realize the nuances and techniques necessary to learn a new skill.  Does he keep trying?

Hard work has value as it improved discipline and provides the opportunity for results.  Many times one must fail in order to succeed.

Creative Write:  Write about learning a new skill.  How did "hard work" translate into result. . .or not? Did failure assist the process?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Indian summer

After the tourists have left and children return to school, beach life slows a notch. October sneaks into La Jolla. Locals appreciate  Indian summer and no longer need to share beaches and sidewalks with visitors. Waves break into multiple personalities without concern.

Cool air sleeves each arm as I turn into a neighborhood of trees in transition. The sidewalk's display of  orange, scarlet and yellow leaves crisp under my feet. I breathe in morning fires that spiral from chimneys and tint the breeze with the aroma of wood smoke.  Sun plays hide and seek with shadows on the pavement.

It's time to carve pumpkins and add to the decorations neighborhoods sport in anticipation of Halloween.  Goblins and witches accompany skeletons. Tombstones, black cats and ghosts appear. I'm partial to the spiders. 

Creative Write:  Write about a time of transition.  Notice all the sensory details.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing about Objects

What are boxes and what can you put inside? What needs to move outside? If you hide something inside, an opportunity to discover magic and mystery waits. How long can it wait?

Boxes also mean limitation but Jack-in-the-Boxes permit "out springing," Then discovery occurs.

From East of Eden by John Steinbeck:

You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said,
"Why don't you make something for me."
I asked what you wanted, and you said,
"A box.'
"What for?"
"To put things in"
"What things?"
"Whatever you have," you said.
"Well, here's your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts - the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation. And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you and it's still not full."

Creative Write:   Write about an object that has meaning for you.  Describe it in all its dimensions and see where the freewriting takes you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Ten Percent Solution

I have always felt a fascination to explore my upper limits.  This involves determination to delve into what I consider my ten percent zone. The highest level of my capability exists in a fragile space. My self-knowledge increases while spending time and energy to examine this area.

Does this appear abstract and mysterious?

When I trained to run marathons, I discovered ways to access the ten percent zone that frightened and unnerved me.  At first, fear surrounded any notions of dashing into the red blinking lights of exhaustion or into a space that could cause injury.

How could I balance the extension of my ability and not break down as a result?

I explored in small increments, attempting each time to push my spirit of discovery and monitor both mind and body. It felt like entering a room of steel without air. The space loomed dark and cluttered with pricks of exhaustion. Fear clogged my throat. Dizziness and chills often spread throughout my body. At the limit, my hearing heightened and vision diminished. I moved out of the feeling as fast as I moved in.

Gradually, I learned my territory beyond "terrority" and befriended my discomfort zone. It teased with its sense of purpose and wilderness. Each time, I gained information for the next excursion. My performance improved if I did not quit or allow my pride to push. Rewards became apparent, measurable and kept me returning. I learned not to stop before it felt relatively good.

What does it feel like to break open, break out and push beyond self-imposed limits? Each person will encounter a different process. Once discovered, the end result includes possession of a skill to translate into all areas of life.  True confidence develops beyond the fear. Learning the self and making discoveries translates into a new understanding.

It requires more than daring. The result occurs in the doing. Wisdom arrives from a balance of experiencing what the body can endure before harm occurs.

Developing skill and trust in the writing process also involves that discomfort zone. During a time of frustration, to write one more word, one more sentence, another paragraph and page creates a positive habit. When we quit during frustration, we train ourselves to do it. When we push on, the synapses and sinew learn what to use for the next attempt.

As I did in exploring the physical ten percent zone, I never stop writing until achieving confidence within a thrill of words. In this way I have conditioned myself and achieved a balance as I did in running. I will always know the feeling that quitting when frustrated or tired will never permit.

Creative Write: Have you pushed to your limits of achievement in an area? How did you get into the ten percent zone? What did it feel like, smell and sound like?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Fish Story

Several years ago we lived in an apartment awaiting our house remodel.  During a writing project with a looming deadline, I took a break for distraction.  Maybe a fish companion might help me maintain focus?  A Siamese Fighting Fish (Beta), with its fierce nature would energize me toward the deadline.

I named him Phineas or Finny for short.

My new Best Friend didn't appear aggressive or puff his gill covers.  He just floated. At times his fins seemed plastered to his sides. His eyes had no gleam. For environmental enrichment I added a rock and a plant.

I placed his bowl on the top of my rolltop desk away from mirror or windows.  The literature indicated Bettas could respond to their reflection and hurt themselves by bumping into the sides of their bowl. Wandering by often, I smiled and wriggled my fingers above the bowl to gain his attention. 

Nothing happened.  He moved like a bloated blueberry. I believe in keeping friendships going.  He would not return to the pet store.

I selected a Siamese Fighting Fish after watching one for several years at a furniture store. Eric swam in a bowl at the front desk. His response to customers included a swaying dance.  He blew bubble rafts in hopes of female companionship.  Curiosity and a sensual personality entertained everyone who walked up to the desk.  I felt encouraged about his longevity for all those years. By now we had a lasting friendship.

During my week's project, Finny grew weaker as my words grew stronger. I became vigilant, changed his water and moved him to other locations.   Unfortunately, I had to bury him in a daisy plant.

Seven years later, the daisies bloom with an added cerulean shine. He has found his callilng.

I wrote a poem in his memory but it focused more Eric.

Fin Mesmer

Two Erics sell teak
at the Scan furniture store.
One's a Siamese Fighting fish,
bachelor-in-a bowl, robed
in lacy magenta.  He burbles
from satiny lips. lays bubbles
along the surface as I watch.
Land Eric, the salesman
says this attracts a female.

I feel the draw to his blue edges.
Watery eyes beg, as he slithers,
with fins that feather skyward.

A teak desk hovers, beyond
his horizon. I feel my hands
unzip my purse where
my Visa card shimmers.

Creative Write:  Write a fish story of your own.  Or, write about any experience with a pet.

Meet Triumph and Disaster

At age 10, while training to play competitive tennis, I had the opportunity to visit the Wimbledon tennis courts in England. My father pointed to the sign over Center Court which read, “Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters the same.”

He encouraged me to think beyond any impossible challenge to make I’m Possible my mantra. The words of the sign stuck with me. I did not really understand their meaning until I had to deal with winning and losing in high school tennis tournaments and other interscholastic sports.

Years later I discovered the quotation came from the poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

One of the most important strategies I developed involved my outward attitude. I began to realize how it affected my opponent. I learned to judge a missed shot with an inner laugh and straight face. Positive body language worked to my advantage.

My efforts to prevent my competition from observing my frustration took a long time to establish. I had to make it authentic from the inside out. As I developed my self-confidence when losing, I realized the power I had over an opponent. My ability to keep in touch with I’m Possible turned many games around in my favor. I also gained strength from my opponents’ frustrations.

This also applies to the writing process.  Never permit your opponent - whether disguised as frustration with your writing or a cranky mood - to dislodge that belief you have in yourself.

The more you discover about yourself, the more strength you will bring to all of life’s encounters in relationships, writing or competition. Each win or loss will provide more experience for the next level of achievement.

Writing about your life's opponents will always help you learn ways to defeat them.  Then, on a day when those imposters of Triumph or Disaster intrude upon your feelings and focus, read about the ways you charged beyond the challenges. Build upon these skills for the future.

Creative Write:
Write your accomplishments. How do you achieve success? Write your feelings and frustrations. How will you overcome them? What does failure mean? Let humor become your ally. Do not look back but continue writing onward. Record all of your efforts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking up

Have the elephants in my mind have left their flannel pajamas on too long this morning?  I have to question what's going on. How will one elephant break from the herd and discover the savanah of blue for its romping pleasure?

Scents of a new day begin with the mockingbird's hip hop song. They  fling me into moments in movement. Morning neck aches caused  by a hard pillow or disrupted sleep, dissolve. I fill my lungs and begin my journey.

It's all right to begin in cranky because I know the breeze on my arms and energy bounding from each stride will bring a new consciousness.  Mystery will discover me around the next turn in the sidewalk.  I push to understand the issues my body suggests and surge ahead to break beyond the frustration.

I help a worm to a grass area and avoid stepping on a bee. A Black Phoebe will not wait for a close up photo. Faces of car drivers way above the speed limit or distracted by cell phones concern me.  Maybe my smile will brighten their day before they run into me because of their lack of focus?

Beyond the morning's congestion, I fly free, accumulating words as I go.

Creative Write:  Write about a time of discomfort or distraction.  Let your words flow until you meet a new experience and write through and beyond it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recipes and Writing

Each autumn, my creativity dabbles in the kitchen devising recipes for soup. Experimentation with taste and ingredients stretches beyond recipes. I cook to sight, scent, taste and texture.

A recipe for sweet potato banana bake arrived in the mail as promotion for a cooking book.

2 c mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 egg
1/2c reduced-fat sour cream
¾ tsp curry power
½ tsp salt

Combine all ingredients until smooth. Transfer to one quart baking dish and bake covered at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

I substituted for what I did not have – or want. I used yogurt for the sour cream, omitted the egg and salt, used pumpkin and then added texture. A small box of granola had arrived  as a promotion with the newspaper that morning. Along with cranberries, this completed my texture component.  I try it on my husband . . . and if Mikey likes it, that means success. 

My recipe advice works to help writing students also. Once the elements of short story are learned and understood, substitutions and eliminations become possible and necessary. They discover by experimentation what to add or leave out. Alteration requires creativity and risk.  Dexterity with craft flavors the basics.

Writers need to try items never considered and develop an experimental mix.

I advise - Learn the elements of cooking and writing.  Then, cook and write to taste!

Creative Write: Take a look at a variety of stories, essays and poems. Ask what the writer left out. Why do the stories work with or without those elements? Would you define the "short short" story as a slice of life or a snapshot view? Also, consider if the elements occur in another, less obvious way. Then experiment with your own story or poem.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tree House

These days a treehouse stands empty. It calls to children who clutch handhelds as fingers gain calluses from overusing the keys.

Today’s youth sing advertising jingles but cannot name the trees, plants or flowers in their own yards. Many have not experienced the wonder trees provide.

Becoming Marco Polo

Outside her childhood bedroom,
a jacaranda tree rubbed the porch railing
in squeals that led curiosity like a piper.
She sneaked out the window to climb it.

Thighs squeezed the bark; arms in hug.
She needed to touch the V formed by branches
near the ground. If only she could reach it,
then swing to the grass where adventures waited.

Night warbling continued from the tree. Muggens,
the cat, dug claws in the wood and scampered
the highway at will. Her tail spiraled in the breeze.
Finch chittering rose from limbs. Even they

flew in and out of branches or captured ants
on this Silk Road. A hummingbird made its nest
higher than her reach. When her father called,
she looked out the window, stuck in the middle.

Again she tried, clutched with her fingers
to find security in the roughness. Blood mingled
with gray bark in failed attempts to settle into the V.
Courage grew in welts on arms and legs.

In spring, an explosion of lavender blossoms
flew a fragrance of musk into the air. She took a breath
and tried once more. One shoe felt the wedge.
Another stretch and both feet arrived.

She balanced and looked upward into an applause
of leaves. She jumped from the V
to explore the world and back before dinner.
                                                - Penny Wilkes

Creative Write: Bring an experience with a tree into a poem. If you have not had an adventure, search for a tree and discover our similarities.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sea of Moods

". . .every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning."              
". . .and the water is so busy
with all its blue business
that arrivals go unrealized.
The waves keep up their song."
- Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda held a fascination for the sea. It became a metaphor for his emotions and travels.  In his Isla Negra, he meditated on the nearness of blue.

During my morning runs, the sea behaves in a stroll of moods. Its animation stretches my senses.  Some days the wave action reflects a satin stillness. In a moment,  mounds appear as if a cat has arched its back, pushed forward and then returned to horizontal. Other days the spindrift curls off  a wave's crest like cat claws extended and hidden during movement toward the shore. 

Water moves in a celadon glaze of Chinese porcelain. It reveals a transparency where orange fish swim.  A change in season promotes rupture and urgency.  Angry in sapphire, wave action polishes the sandstone.  Slush and slap push water in cacophony or symphony. Carried on a mist of salt, scents of cinnamon rolls and coffee mingle on sun-enchanted breezes.

The sea might match my mood or cause me to question my morning's emotions. Imagination tickles each breath untilI notice an elegance of seahorses driven in harness. In an instant they turn into scrambled egg whites.  Breakfast calls.

Creative Write:  Take time by the sea to notice the changing colors of blue. Observe the shapes and sizes of waves. Let your fancy wander and write with the flow.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pounce for Words

I tried to catch a photograph of the brown pelicans as they sailed over my head during a morning run yesterday.  My camera did not adjust in time.  Woosh, they soared beyond my camera's eye. Waves surged and bubbled along the rocks but I only captured blurs.  I kept running and listened to drums of surf and breathed the spindrift. The wind brought scents of muffins. When timing seems off,  I move into other senses.

Once in a while I will feel this way when deciding to focus on a piece of writing.  If I chase my subject I might miss the details that surround it. A pull back and patience always help.  I discover a new approach or another subject to consider.

This experience occurred as I noticed a cat posed like a pointer dog.  I could not tell just what it saw.  Nothing moved or wriggled ahead of it.  I felt its intrigue and my eagerness slowed to match its patience.  Five minutes passed as I approached and rustled the camera out of my fanny pack. I could feel a pounce would occur any second. 

Then. . . click and miss.  I looked at the photograph on the screen and by chance my camera had taken a second shot.  Usually these turn out of my hands and feet.  This second shot captured the pounce.  The camera had rewarded my patience.

Creative Write: Take time  and become patient with your words today.  You may have to wait  through your freewrite until some idea takes you in a different direction.  Let that happen.  Then pounce on words!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

At Home in the Trees and Pages

During childhood, I spent a lot of time in trees. I climbed a magnolia into the sky and watched an amusement of clouds. A favorite eucalyptus grew from the earth in three trunks. It created a hiding place. I could sit inside a nest of leaves that accumulated in a three foot space. The branches on one side formed a wedge where I crawled to survey the world along with ants, beetles and bees.

In my tree castle, the broken base of a concrete bird bath served as a cannon to send oranges into the yard against any intruders.

My leatherette diary and fountain pens accompanied me into the scent of leaves and tweets of house finches.  I searched for words to describe my observations; the tang of orange peel on my fingers. I taped leaves and dandelions in the back and a feather or two.  This transferred a feeling of home to the pages. When I carried my diary during international travel with my parents, it provided comfort and become my mobile home.

I have always felt at home with my journals no matter where I travel or live. Writing transports me into the discoveries of nature's magic and mysteries.

Creative Write: Write about a childhood place of security in nature or where you first experienced writing.