Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The poem below provides an opportunity to think of moments in movement.  How do we choose to spend our lives?  Go through the poem and consider how you might frame your own maxim.

A Maxim
           by Carl Dennis

To live each day as if it might be the last
Is an injunction that Marcus Aurelius
Inscribes in his journal to remind himself
That he, too, however privileged, is mortal,
That whatever bounty is destined to reach him
Has reached him already, many times.
But if you take his maxim too literally
and devote your mornings to tinkering with your will
Your afternoons and evenings to saying farewell
To friends and family, you'll come to regret it.
Soon your lawyer won't fit you into his schedule.
Soon your dear ones will hide in a closet
When they hear your heavy step on the porch.
And then your house will slide into disrepair.
If this is my last day, you'll say to yourself,
why waste time sealing drafts in the window frames
Or cleaning gutters or patching the driveway?
If you don't want your heirs to curse the day
You first opened Marcus's journals,
Take him simply to mean you should find an hour
each day to pay a debt or forgive one,
Or write a letter of thanks or apology.
No shame in leaving behind some evidence
You were hoping to live beyond the moment.
No shame in a ticket to a concert seven months off,
Or, better yet, two tickets, as if you were hoping
To meet by then someone who would love to join you,
Two seats near the front so you can catch each note.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Positive Writing

How do you stay Positive about your writing when moods and self-doubt disrupt your balance?  It's a good idea to have ways to trick yourself with diversion.  Try these ideas.  Add your own.

l.    Laugh at yourself and the situation. 
2.  Write about your mood or name it and have a conversation.  Who's the boss here?
3.   Try a few deep breaths.  Start wth six in and out.  Feel the coolness in through your nose and the heat as you breathe out.  Go for ten in, twelve out.  Enjoy the rhythm. Try it with a few ha ha ha ha ha's as you breathe out through your mouth.
4.  Give your mood a name and write a letter to it.  Try a dialogue with it also. How will it respond?
5.  Clean out your refrigerator.  You will want to return to your writing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

As Long as You're Upright!

Blaga Dimitrova, Bulgaria's celebrated poet, novelist and playwright wrote:

As Long as You're Upright
Don't forget to rejoice.
The wise trees whisper
as they crash on failing knees
under the ax.
Don't forget to rejoice!
As long as you're upright,
as long as you encounter the wind.
As long as you breathe the heights.

As long as the ax slumbers.

Daily, the media throws "news" at us in the form of disasters, disorders and disarray.  Rarely do we see headlines that inspire. How do we survive each day with a positive attitude in this culture of negativity?  How do we remain upright?

Poetry leads us to search for our center and travel outward from it to make connections  We can do this in a tone of whininess or search for what works in our lives and in the world. 

Nature provides endless possibilities from dawn to dusk with marvels for our enrichment. Inhaling with all our senses gives perspective.

Blaga presented her Ars Poetica as a challenge to writers:

Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
death comes with terrifying suddenness
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply won't have time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood - as if it were your last.

Creative Write:   Today consider life from a Positive perspective.  Write your Ars Poetica from a place in nature.

Dessert for Writing

Add spice and imagery to your writing by avoiding worn out modifiers and phrases.When you write an overused image like blue sky consider what else you could use in sound, scent or taste or texture to pique the reader's curiosity and gain attention.

Notice the difference in imagery"

a broken tool          half a pair of scissors

a rusted car            Cadillac dappled with rust

beautiful woman     woman with piano player's fingers

quiet day                even the birds overslept

good friend            tasty as triple chocolate cake

Try these:  summer day, hot morning, wet dress, cheeping bird, frustration, anger, anxiety.

Creative Write:  Where will you go with sensory metaphors today?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Star Daze

Imagine watching the night sky for hours just to see a few Perseid showers.

During most of the evening of August 13 and into the dawn they sputtered and dripped without much shower activity.  Listening to tunes via earplugs, my eyes wandered the night sky in search of  gems and treasures.

I wondered what early humans thought when gazing upward at the jeweler's sprawl of diamonds on a velvet tray? Did questions arise concerning where the dark escaped as dawn took over?

Over 6000 years years ago, cuneiform texts and artifacts existed in the Euphrates River Valley. This information indicates that individuals observing the night sky saw the lion, the bull, and the scorpion in the stars.  Mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans elaborates on the constellations. In Homer's Iliad,, (7th century B.C.) he describes Achilleus's shield by the craftsman god Hephaistos:

On it he made the earth, and sky, and sea, the weariless sun and the moon waxing full, and all the constellations that crown the heavens, Pleiades and Hyades, the mighty Orion and the Bear, which men also call by the name of Wain: she wheels round in the same place and watches for Orion, and is the only one not to bathe in Ocean (Iliad XVIII 486-490).

At the time of Homer, the constellations did not connect to myths or gods. They were known as the objects or the animals they represented, such as the Lyre or the Ram. By the 5th century B.C. the constellations became associated with myths, and the Catasterismi of Eratosthenes completed the mythologization of the stars.

Roman Ptolemy of Alexandria created a star catalogue. He grouped 1022 stars into 48 constellations during the 2nd century A.D. It forms the basis for the modern list of 88 constellations officially designated by the International Astronomical Union.

Perseus, son of Jupiter and Danae, was sent to kill the Gorgon Medusa. Looking into her face turned the viewer to stone so he had quite a task.  Aided by Pluto, Mercury and Minerva, Perseus accomplished the feat. Pluto lent him a helmet of invisibility, Mercury provided his winged sandals, and Minerva gave him her shield. With the aid of the helmet and the sandals, Perseus reached striking distance without being detected by Medusa or the two immortal Gorgons. He used the reflection on the shield to guide his killing blow.

Perseus was immortalized as a constellation, found near Andromeda, Cepheus and Cassiopeia, in the northern sky. He holds a sword in one hand and the head of Medusa in the other. The eye of Medusa is the star Algol. Algol means "Demon Star" in Arabic.

Creative Write:  If you wrote a story about the stars, where would you begin?

Stalking or Collecting and Collating Words?

Desire does not bring poems. The hunted can only abide how opportune the killer's lunge is and how deftly sharpened its blade.


- Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Poet, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, writes of the inspirational moment as a "hunger of the stalking mind." He feels creativity requires a hunt for the moment it cannot grasp, let alone pity.

What obsesses a writer in the moment that jars from the onslaught of every day thoughts and feelings? Can we hunt for topics or stalk them until they relent? Will they behave if trapped or captured this way?

I do not become a stalker of experience. Ready for gleams that beckon, my notions might not connect immediately. As a result, I feel more like the collector and collator of their sparkle rather tracking them like a hunter. I save experience, surprise wonder in a kaleidoscope to twist, turn and view the assimilation of color and shine. Eventually a series of clicks shift and sort for me.

A series of gleams arrive and dovetail or flee. Why? They relish the freedom of flight.

I keep a notebook with me and record the flashes so later I can spin through pages and observe what will shift into perspective. Shine with silly.

Pau-Llosa likes to use parables as metaphors in his poems. I've discovered the idea of a myth provides potential.

This poem resulted from such a series of gleams that reflected and refracted at a later date.

Spanish Pomegranate

The Alhambra, red fortress, spreads on a hill,
a sleeping lion waiting beyond the years
layered by conquerors and inhabitants.
In a corner, pricks of stars focus light
where Washington Irving spun his stories.
Where women wept and men plannedconquests,
birds swirled, leaving shadows behind. Visions
slipped into the pools, then vanished.

Behind harem doors, a woman sang her bondage,
sought freedome with each breath. She wandered
rooms, leaving her scent in clove and jasmine.
One day of a different wind, she tied her soul
to a swallow. They flew to a grove in Jaen
So far from fear that once her feet touched,
she blended with the earth. Her blood flows
through pomegranate flowers each spring.

                                        Avocet, winter, 2010.

Create Write: Go through your journal or notebook for words that gleam. Will a poem result? Try writing a myth or parable.

. - Richardo Pau-Llosa

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do you need a map or a nap?

Is today a "dip" day where the energy of wings or fleet feet would help?

To push beyond your ennui, try a list of pairs. Ask a question. See what happens when you pair two items. Just permit free association to take over and don't judge or edit. Go as fast as you can and let your inspiration take you away.

Move until you have hit number 21.

Here's a start:

What do I need -

1 frosting or the cake

2 leaves or stays

3 trinkets or trades

4 bows or whens

5 bravery or a kite

6 milk or pencils

7 magic or mocha

8 salmon or a scream

9 tirades or tennis balls

10 singing or flames

11 doilies or disgrace

12 monkeyshines or darkness

13 fright or sherbert

14 bubbles or incubation

15 spindrift or tin foil

16 honey or pintos

17 radiance or a gum drop

18 clutter or a stun gun

19 meringue or perpetuity

20 bongo drums or a secret

21 yogurt or merriment

Then begin again with another question. Break away from ordinary with the questions also. Try rhyming.

What happens at twilight -

l bluebirds or howling

2 thirst or the worst

3 blood or floods

4 maybes or fleas

5 locks or kiddie blocks

6 freedom or kingdom

7 icicles or tricycles

8 harmony or charm

9 ridicules or barnacles

10 moonsbunnies or funny money

11 highways or one act plays

12 nickles or pickles

13 clay pots or knots

14 crowds or clouds

15 soup or droop

16 arrangements or endangerments

17 puddles or cuddles

18 rice or thrice

19 playmates or paperweights

20 mushrooms or classrooms

21 free will or a duck's bill

Creative Write: Try several questions for your 21 pairs. What does Friday sound like? Then try a freewrite mixing all the words.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Life Story Writing

You have a unique story to tell.  Certain people, events and themes figure prominently in life story because you are a complex being composed of sounds, sights, smells, tastes and memories.

Listen to the voices that travel through your mind.  Hear your father, mother, siblings, children, lovers, friends, enemies, teachers and heroes acting out their dramas on your life slate.  Hearing the voices within yourself will remind you of your place in a special clan.  People will always inhabit you and return with your memories to help you create your stories.

Your group had traditions, rules, taboos, customs, ceremonies and habitual ways of interacting that shaped and shaded your personality. As a result, you have a complete cycle of legends, dances, and songs to be sung.  You need to write these stories to enrich your life and share your history and memories with others.

Lifeline of memories:

How will you punctuate time?  What moments will you isolate and give symbolic importance or single out for dramatic effect? 

Choose five pivotal events in your life.  Detail the circumstances, characters and backgrounds of each scene.  How are the scenes you have chosen representative of your present lif?.  How did they change or affect you?  How has your view of them altered over the years?

Identify reoccurring themes in your life.  What ages were crisis periods?  What times did you feel the best?What personal, family and social rituals or celebrations were involved in changing stages.of your life?

Creative Write:  Turn your story inside out; try a new way of punctuating your life.  Create a persona to revisit a situation in your life.  How will you enhance or change it?

Menagerie Stories

The earliest known artists used animals as their subjects. Images of beasts dominate cave walls of Lascaux and Altamira. They tell stories of the prehistoric world.

Teaching stories and fables arrived later. Through the actions of animals, they showed children how to behave and the consequences of bad choices. Native American stories of coyote and raven abound.

What menagerie could you create to tell a story of collaboration?

Consider two animals.

An elephant waded into the pond at a Wild Animal Park. With the sound of a trumpet, it tossed water from its trunk onto its back. Ripples from its skin sent droplets over its frame. A bluebird happened by and noticed this refreshment in the heat of the day.

“Hello,” the bird sang as it flew above the trunk.”How do you do that?”

“Ah, it's easy, “ the elephant responded. “ Would you like a spray?”

“Yes, I have flown for days from the north and would like a drink and bath.”  The bird flapped in motion just above the gray trunk. Soon the water sparkled from its feathers.

“You’re fortunate also to have wings,” smiled the elephant. “I’ve always admired birds in the sky and how they can travel.

“It looks like we have ways to share our experiences,” said the bird, drying one feather at a time with its beak.

“So many animals here have talents to learn about,” said the elephant.

“Aren’t you frightened by the fierce ones?”

“Each has his or her own specialty,” the elephant moved deeper into the water. “Ah, this feels good.”

Creative Write: Where will you take this story or create your own two animal characters.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Eat Words. Play! Then write.

"A writer's brain is like a magician's hat. If you're going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first."   Louis L'Amour.

Many writers make the mistake of trying to pull rabbits from their hats without first taking time to tuck the rabbit away so it will be there when they need it.  Then they wonder why writer's block assails them and ideas fail them.

Writers need to become voracious omnivores of literature.  A variety of  readings provides experience and growth.  Don't get stuck in a genre rut, design your reading to challenge and inform your writing.

Prepare a year's list of reading to accomplish.  Consider the following:

1.    Biographies
2.    Memoirs
3.    At least four classics
4.    One book you re-read every five years.
5.    A couple of books written by writers on writing.
6.    Several poetry books.
7.    A history book.
8.    Two books in a new field of interest.
9     One children's book or even two.
10.  Two books on multicultural literature.

Eat words, play, then write!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Story in Five Lines

See where your mind and creativity take you if you write a story in only five lines.

First Line:           Create a title that piques the reader's curiosity.

Second Line:      Use two words to describe the title.

Third Line:         Use three words in a sentence to show action.

Fourth Line:       Use four words to describe a feeling about the title.

Fifth Line:          Rename or describe the first line.

Here's an example:

Wrist watch not needed.

Childhood days

She chases dragonflies.

Wonder, joy, discovery, fun.

Time evaporates during childhood play.

Creative Write: Start your story.  After the five lines do a freewrite to see where else your ideas might travel.

The Writing E's - Entice Don't Explain!

All writers hear over and over, "Show don't tell." This means, don't lecture the readers. Invite them on a journey of discovery to connect in metaphor and sensory detail with the experience.

Keep this by your writing pad or computer:

Engage. Evoke. Entice. Excite. Don't explain or editorialize.

As the writer, become the bus driver rather than tour guide. Drive readers into the wilderness and let them discover points of interest without interpretation.

Van Gogh, pictured above, resides at Spanish Village an artist colony in San Diego's Balboa Park. He spends most of his time at the food bar. When I approached for a photograph he bristled, fanned his tail, wriggled his nose and stood on his hind legs. I expected a hiss and snarl, his front paws to curl and strike. The pose melted and he continued to eat regardless of my proximity.

Creative Write: Where could you take this introduction to Van Gogh? What if he did transmogrify into a larger creature? How would you engage, evoke, entice and excite your reader?

Pushing Boundaries

I begin the day with a yoga class to move past tightness and breathe beyond difficulties. By twists and turns, I ease my mind and limbs into the poses. Stretching right side, then left extends boundaries. How grateful I feel that I do not possess the appendages of an octopus today.

Remaining in each moment sooths Saturday's tightness. Strength enlivens my body and mind. The process itself unravels frustration and opens possibilities like my writing does.

After class I watch clouds clumping with rain. The wind lifts my hair in a face tickle. Spring seeps into my cells and brings thoughts of renewal with flashes of color that erupt from the earth.

I feel refreshed and returned to my true nature.

Creative Write: Alain de Botton writes, "We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure can anything grow." Consider what you find difficult today. How will you bring successes from the past to your present moments of discomfort? Write to discover and move beyond today's difficulties.