Saturday, April 30, 2011

Questions: Family, Forgiveness and Mystery

Question family, forgiveness and mystery.

When you begin to write the mystery of family, what questions arise?
What criteria do you use to define family?
How have you used forgiveness in a family situation?

If you combine family, forgiveness and mystery - what results?

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Royal Day

Consider yourself Royalty today.

Choose a title.  Create one with enthusiasm or pick from a variety: Emir, Grand Mushal, Khan, Padishah, Raja, Royal. Nobel Consort, Nawab.  Go to Wikipedia for title suggestions or have fun designing your own:

Add a vegetable or fruit.

Then choose a city with a long or strange name.

Write about your first act of power.  What will you do to save the world or. . .?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Twenty Notions

Write 20 notions or random thoughts each day to stimulate your creativity. 

Begin, "Today, it occurs to me . . . I wonder . . ." Don't stop writing until you reach 20. Let those wild fingers go.

Here's a start:

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

13. The bit of 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?

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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cell Phone Play

Creativity requires change; the need to move and discover.

Play with a cell phone camera.

        Take it and swirl it.
            Snap amidst twirl.
Try a variety of venues.
     Click the unlikely.
   Move way beyond unusual.
Catch the indescribable.
Shimmy.  Snap.  Try a variety of  venues.

Look upside down for clouds in puddles and the extraordinary in gum ball machines.

Write about it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Taste Buds

The magic recipe to living out your boldest dreams: A pinch of delusion, a dash of audacity and a shot of courage. 
- Kirsty Spraggon

Like the comments on the cup above, writers have a variety of taste buds.  If you selected from an array of ingredients for your writing choices, what would you choose?

Here's a start down the cafeteria line.  Choose one of each or add your own.

A metaphor: The heart of an artichoke

Several action verbs: engorge, munch, swallow,  digest,

A detail: The tines of a fork flash and drip with dill sauce.

Two nouns of texture: tapioca, endive

If you must -
One adjective that astonishes the noun.

Sprinkle in a suppressed dream,  pepper with delusion,  the spice of audacity and a shot of courage.

Now, mix together, write for fifteen minutes and see where the taste buds take you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Write What You Don't Know

In the "Legend of Bagger Vance,"  Bagger Vance claims that life is a game that can't be won, only played.  The writing life becomes similiar. In the initial stages of creativity, it's not about winning or a goal.  One word after another will generate ideas.

We play with words, become immersed in our writing action and discover what we never expected. Play becomes serious and disciplined as well as liberating. An absorption takes over that removes us from structure and our surroundings.

If we free ourselves to write just what arrives, the writing serves itself.  It may not win prizes or become publishable but that's not the purpose.  The writing sets us free to move to another level of possibility.

Writing is a solitary practice.  Like meditation, no one can do it but the writer.

Rabbi Rami who believes in writing as spiritual practice, conducts workshops on writing alone and with others. He has three rules:

l.   Don't write what you know.
2.  You can't write what you don't know.
3.  You must write.

Creative Write:  Go against Rule Number 2.  Write what you don't know.  Set aside a block of time and permit yourself the stillness and freedom to write for at least an hour.

Begin with: I don't know anything about . . .

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tickling Intuition

Intuition involves developing an acuity of perception.  It engages creative thinking with hunches and possibilities.  A special sense activates to grasp the invisible and provide insight.  Flashes of thrill and understanding result without barriers of perceived notions.

David G. Myers,  a psychologist, defines intuition as, "The capacity for direct knowledge and immediate insight, without any observation or reason."  Malcolm Gladwell, another expert, describes intuition as the "power of thinking without thinking."

Both encourage us to cultivate this undersung way of grasping our raw experience.

Myers also warns of the perils of intuition if it's untempered by logic and analysis, it can lead us down rabbit holes where we lose track of the difference between our fantasies and the real world.  It can cause us to mistake our fears for accurate ESP or get lost in a maze of self-fulfilling prophecies.

What do you take from the abstract comments above?   Would examples skew your thoughts?   Write about your experience with intuition.  How does it affect your writing and life?

Use intuition to write about the photograph above.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

People Judging

At the completion of my morning run, I looked up to notice a man walking toward me.  He smiled, bent to pick a flower and extended it to me.  At first I wondered what he wanted?  Would he ask for money or food or?  

I felt hesitant but took his offering. "Thank you. You enlivened my day, " I said.  He bowed, smiled and walked on.  I followed him with my eyes until he turned the corner. 

This gentle offering made me think of how we judge others because of the fear generated by the media and our weary world.  If everyone picked a flower and passed in on, how brightened our days would become on both sides of the offering.

Before my benefit of the day, I had wondered about the variety of people as I passed them on my running route. What did their lives entail?  What were their avocations or professions?  What gave them joy or concern?  

As writers, we need to delve into the interactions of others to generate our own ideas for stories or poems.  

Creative Write: When standing in line or waiting at a restaurant, watch those around you, ask questions about their behavior or what they do for a living and take notes. Go wild with your curiosity and come up with uncommon notions about those you observe.  Is this individual a spy? an elephant trainer? a magician? a runaway from a family vacation?  Have fun and spark connections.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Gathered Pleasure

Robert Louis Stephenson wrote, "There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. Happiness does not need to become the goal. We need a variety of experiences and moods to write about."

In the 1980’s  Martin E.P. Seligman adopted the term, “positive psychology.”  After years of studying the “learned helplessness” that characterized depression, he began to study how individuals could learn optimism. Seligman felt a search for “authentic happiness” made more sense than  relying on psychology’s one-sided focus on illness and disorders.

Choose to focus on optimism, courage and perseverance rooted in social and civil well-being.  Consider how to gather simple pleasures. The process itself will attract feelings of exultation.

When nature provides a feast, take time to savor all the flavors. Everyone needs to awaken to the positivity that explodes in blossom and sky. Take a pleasure interlude from your busy life to revel in the marvelous around you. Squeeze out joy and appreciation for the living, growing creatures, plants and trees.

Creative Write:  Write about  "learned helplessness," optimism or courage. Move through a variety of moods.

Celebrate Earth Day

It's John Muir's Birthday (1838-1914). He became America's most influential naturalist, conservationist and founded the Sierra Club.

Muir once described himself as a "poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist, etc., etc."

He loved the wild and walked 1,000 miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico.

John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt camping in Yosemite Valley which resulted in the national parks system: five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests.

Muir discovered that soaking sequoia pine cones in water turned the water purple. He used it as ink and drank it, "hoping thereby to ... render myself more tree-wise and sequoical."

Today, breathe the freshness of air, smell the trees and flowers in bloom and feel gratitude for what the earth does for you.

How will you help the natural world today?  Pick up a discard. Listen to bird song and smile at another human being. Share the amazements of nature.

Share with us your celebration of our awesome planet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Edges of the Unknown

"It was always a joy to play with Miles. It was full of risks, full of mystery. We weren't afraid of the unknown. We relished the unknown. We loved getting lost and making something happen almost out of thin air. . . . we were more like magicians maybe. That was what Miles paid us to do. To reach down deep, to really concentrate, really focus. And not on what we were doing as individuals but what we were doing collectively." - Herbie Hancock, pianist for Miles Davis 

Miles Davis explored new territory with his trumpet in a freeflow manner. He attracted musicians for his group with a similar
 improvisational magic. Davis provided sketches of scales and melody lines and told everyone to improvise. He called for almost no rehearsal time before a recording. 

Even if this is not your type of music, let it knock you around and push you to the edge.  Let it cause improvisation in your writing.  Just go with it.

Visit youtube and listen: 

Absorb the intensity of notes. Start writing with nowhere to go except a translation of the energy. Take risks, mine for mystery and get lost in a rhythm of words. 

Go down deep and explore as your fingers play the keys as a pianist might, inspired by the other musicians. 

Did you feel jangled and write in a different style?  Share your experience with us.

Directions and Emotional Reads

How well do you read road signs before reacting? They provide information to access informed choices with danger avoided.

When intense emotions pop up, obey them: STOP, CAUTION, SLOW DOWN.  Learn to drive your emotional body from the controls inside.

When anger, sadness or unease arrive along the day's route, use them as alerts. Despite the discomfort, these feelings provide feedback and opportunities for choices. If sensations direct rather than motivate choices, you may move in a direction away from your destination.

Once the emotions color your mind, ask, "I'm feeling uneasy. What do I need to do in this situation?"  How do I change direction? Is a U-turn in order?" 

STOP! Read those signs.

Learn to permit the triggers that cause the feelings to become road guides along the way. Pay attention and observe the feedback loop. 

When the signs help you flow through life's traffic with ease, you'll arrive at your destination less stressed.

How will you drive your emotions today?

Creative Write:  Develop a metaphor to use when negative emotions strike.  How will you use them as guidance?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mood Altering

Search for ways to add conflicting emotions to your fictional characters or the personas used to write poetry. To mine for emotions and discover where words will take you, experiment with these mood sets:

grateful empathic playful admiring secretive jubiliant

anxious fearful angry remorseful lonely rejected

The first line includes upbeat feelings. The lower line delves into  frustrations and negative feelings. Add others.

Use a spiral notebook for this exercise so you may move with ease through the pages. Begin by writing the first word in the pair across the top of your page.

Write for at least two pages to express every thought or feeling that the word arouses. Then switch and write at the top of the next page the word that appears beneath your chosen word.

Write for two pages about the emotion listed beneath it. Don't forget to use all the senses. After the writing session take a break. When you return, write for a page about what the mind has churned up regarding these moods. Do you see a character developing that intrigues you?

Become willing to go into uncomfortable places. If you have secrets to tell, create a character to reveal them. Do this by writing a first name when the idea arises and use dialogue to push the idea forward or write in third person. Let the writing amuse and surprise you.

Don't analyze or critique the results. See if you can generate the mood you write about. During your writing, do not stop or re-read what you have written. If you become sidetracked, let the writing flow where it wants.

Creative Write: Begin a story or poem with a potential character you've Wordled into life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out. ~Italian Proverb

A Tibetan teacher describes practice as the wearing out of a old pair of shoes. With the soles worn thin, ego and delusion leave. The more time spent in writing practice, the more insights gained.

Revelations arrive by pushing words into one another.  When we risk and attempt new ideas, confidence increases. Like a comfortable pair of shoes with mileage, the words will begin to energize us to keep moving.

Creative write:  Choose a pair of shoes: running shoes, strappy heels, construction boots, sandals or a pair of your choice.  What adventures will you walk into today?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Explore Eating Habits to Reveal Characters

The next time you visit a restaurant, watch a table of four to five diners. Make notes on their visual cues and eating behavior. You'll gather material for use to reveal characters and for building scenes in stories.

Check out animal behavior:  Do they eat like Canada Geese,  mice, squirrels, sparrows, lions, birds of prey . . . or?

Watch their gestures:  
Clappers, snappers
Hand waves from elbows on table
Clutch fisters
Palms up side wavers
Nose scratchers
Ear tweakers

What they do with their plates and utensils:
Spooners versus fork users
Knife stabs food item then goes straight to mouth.
Food arrangers: move items around the plate for correct positions.
Napkin usag: folders, ballers, scrunchers

Eating habits:
Pushers away and then up to mouth
Finger eaters
Dainties and little finger wavers

Communal Behavior:
Food sharers, sneakers and stealers

Head postures:
Side to side wags
Cocked one way, then another
Head lean on hand or arm
Lean on another's shoulder

Creative Write: Watch for relationships, insights and interactions. Write a story in gestures and details of body language related to communication and food.  Show the reader what the situation involves, the individual intentions and results.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thought Diving for Colors

Herman Melville believed writers did "thought diving" to get their stories. He described writers as,  "The whole corps of thought-divers that have been diving and coming up again with blood-shot eyes since the world began."

Unlike Ahab's fascination for the white whale, I never have felt an attraction to white. When I thought-dive for memories of why I shun white, I flash back to the discomfort of crisp outfits with frills and lace.

My mother attempted to keep me contained and clean within these whites. Once dressed and released into nature, I turned them into a palate of grass smears, boysenberry juice and bark stains. Eventually, she relented and purchased colors for me to wear.

Creative Write: Try thought-diving for memories. Write about why you have a fascination with or dislike a particular color.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Silent Language

In his memoir, THE SUMMING UP, Somerset Maugham described himself as lacking imagination. He said, "On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things other people missed. I could put down in clear terms what I saw. I had a logical sense, and if no great feeling for the richness and strangeness of words, at all events a lively appreciation of their sound."

Search for the silent language.Take advantage of observation skills during the day. When entering a room or a walking outdoors, use your senses to record the scenes in detail.

Look up and into the distance. What do your feet notice? How many shapes and shadows appear? What flashes past the corners of your eyes? Notice: colors, sounds and scents. Touch with your fingertips.

In a crowd of people, make notes of clothing textures and shoes. How do they sound? What distinguishes the individuals in speech patterns? How do they move? Record their gestures.

What might others miss in the venues?

Explore the invisible. Observe what goes on in a silent language.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gypsy Sabbatical

Take a break from your real world to travel on a writing sabbatical.  You're given a Gypsy wagon and a credit card for a month.

Describe your vehicle.  What will you pack?

Where will you drive?  Which territories speak to you that need exploring? Delve into the wild, grand, and meaningful.  Set out on an adventure with words.

Let yourself create beyond all possibilities.  Will you add wings?

Write yourself into fun and fantasy.  Share how you start your writing engine.


Think about a gift that meant more than its shape, size or value.  Write about its prize quality and meaning to you when received.  Recall opening the package. Detail its wrapping and scent. What feelings did it evoked and why?

Listen to BIlly Collins read his poem, "Lanyard" to gain the feeling of a gift's significance. Click link and scroll down to the last line of photographs for Billy's "Lanyard."

Get your pen or fingers on the keys poised to write on!  Don't worry about the form. Let the feelings lead your words.

Post a few lines to give us a flavor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Erase and Imaginate

The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.
- Arthur Miller

Choose a subject you know a lot about. Scroll your mind back to initial experiences as you learned and gained more knowledge in this area of expertise. Close your eyes, click a switch and erase all memories and knowledge. Forget everything you know.

Begin fresh. Write from a child's perspective. Use simple sentences and baby words. Creep, crawl and rise to walk. Then get your writing engine running. Notice how words build upon words and memories enter. Set the images aside and design new ones.


Write about the first experience learning to play a sport.
How did you learn a musical instrument or how to sing?
Write the first secret you shared with a trusted friend.
Write a first feeling of falling in love without reference to what you know now.

Keep deleting prior knowledge in your search for the pure form of your experience.

Have fun with this and share your experience with us.
Could you return to the blank page and imaginate?

Writing Past Turbulence

Is it possible to nourish and sustain writing during times of turbulence?

Reciprocity rules in relationships that last.  We also thrive in a reciprocity with writing.  It support us as we struggle through days of fog.

Nine Preparations for inclement weather:

1. Stock your own life raft while the sun shines. What are your best resources? During the times of flow, write down what works for you. What have you done “this time” to push beyond?

2. Challenge yourself to discover ways to return to the page or screen. Turn up the music. Sit there and let fingers fly without worry about the result. Don’t become anxious to create a finished piece.

3. Learn your rhythm. Chart your mind’s peaks and valleys by week. Give yourself a day of rest and read a variety of words. Choose words that amuse or amaze. Write one word or one sentence on colored cards.

4. Does creativity increase the closer you get to the deadline? Can you count on this? What other ways could you manage your creativity? Consider setting an earlier deadline to trick the “procrastinating creative.”

5. When frustration floods, return to research and information gathering. Write a letter to your writing as a friend. Ask this pal for help.

6. Most breakthroughs occur when you move away from the project. Take a walk or jump in a jacuzzi. Write about nature deals with weather.

7. Consider improbable connections. Let your ideas rearrange in kaleidoscopic fashion.

8. Write your process for all writing projects. Notice it does not progress in a linear fashion. This will become your Best Friend.

9. Create your own metaphor for struggle. Consider your greatest accomplishment and how you achieved it. Use all your senses to recall it in detail.

Finding Your Balance

One must have chaos within oneself if one is to be a dancing star. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Writer-artist, Rod MacIver asks, "Is the objective a spiritual, centered life, a life in harmony with oneself, and the world at large? Or is the objective to be a great artist? A great writer? A centered, simple creative life close to nature or financial success and recognition? Those are very different lives."

MacIver responds to his thoughts and those of Nietzsche with - How about just a bright light?

I admire the notion of Rod's bright light. Unending internal conflict from expectations and frustrations does not generate creativity. It provides a battlefield of disharmony within oneself.

Self-harmony turns the key to positive results in all aspects of life and art. It's not about the search for happiness. The highs and lows work in seesaw fashion to provide a teetering balance. A new understanding and comfort level are gained from each elevation and descent.

Everything begins with the advice of Polonius,"to thine own self be true." It takes a lifetime of good and poor choices to learn that centering means going through the motions in each moment.

Definition of "great" involves a quest for quality. If we shine the light internally it will bounce from prisms of risk and reward. Then the brilliance from what's gained extends to our art form. It attracts and nurtures others.

Creative Write: How do you stay true to yourself? What does it take to build your internal light source and share it in your art?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writing by Hand and Flow

Technology requires our fingers to push keys on equipment like computers, cell phones and ATM machines. We're moving away from cursive writing even though we still have to  use our written signature on legal documents and credit card receipts.

Total keyboard input might work for everyone but writers. The keyboard does not stimulate creativity the way a pen gripped by fingers engages a flow of words.

When we write by hand it affects both the left and right brain.  The physical process of writing connects with the creative aspect of moving the loops and lines . This involves us on a sensual level.  When writing with a fountain pen, the wetness of the ink drying on the page reflects a scent of its own.  If you do not have a fountain pen, any pen that flows adds to your process better than a pencil.

Let the heart and breath encourage a rhythm as you write by hand.   After the freehand writing, see how it translates when sending it to the keyboard.

What did you discover about your creativity when writing with a pen?  Did you feel the rhythm?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Your Writing Muscles

It's track season. Do you know which muscles propel your writing?  

Like track athletes, your writer's personality of patience and mental muscles encourages a type of writing. Discovering strengths in terms of how long you like to write and the length of writing will often help you decide what to write.

Novelists have marathon muscles.  There's a long road ahead to prepare for both physically and mentally to write chapter after chapter.

Essayists and short story writers have shorter jaunts ahead.

Poets have a sprinter's mindset. 

In reality, writers of all genres really need a marathoner mentality to write on and on.  It might appear like a sprint to the finish or a "poem dash."  It takes the writing on and on and on to prepare for the words to arrive when needed.

Creative Write: Take a look at your potential for writing novels, short stories, essays or poetry.  Write why or how each appeals. Can you sit for long periods of time and pound away at the keys or  avoid writer's cramps when writing with a pen? Do you languish when confronted with word after word?  Do you like to get in and get out? 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Writing about food discoveries

Food provides comfort or brings memories of distasteful situations. Growing up, we learn food preferences from family, friends, and situations.

My father lived to eat with gusto.  Breakfast became my favorite meal because of all the mornings spent with him. His favorites included: buttery toast with jam, eggs easy, jellied omelets, and French toast.  Melons and berries sparkled in his eyes when he ate.  My father also had an appetite for licorice bits and butterscotch sundaes.

My mother preferred dinner and loved to cook.  Her bread crumb-crunchy mac 'n' cheese melted in the mouth.  She also had a winner with lamb shanks drenched with mint sauce.  Stewed ox-tails shed a flavor of bay leaves.  Vegetables included broccoli, spinach and string bean delights. She only included one liver and onion dish I slathered with catsup and vinegar.  

As a result, I require textures and tangs in my food.

When my Grandmother lived with us, she taught me to cook without measuring.  She encouraged the use only of smell and taste. We made toffy, Welsh cakes and an array of berry pies.  I salivate while writing about her culinary talents.

My first grade teacher told us the first day at the school lunch table to "eat what you don't like first."  That didn't make much sense to me since I loved all foods.  When the other children left turkey tails and chicken wings, I had more to enjoy. It's a good thing my curiosity combined with an active metabolism.

During early childhood, I spent many months during the year traveling on steamships with my parents.  I felt dizzy and nauseated most of the time regardless of what they tried: dramamine, candies, tums.  One evening before the ship's after dinner movie, my father said dates would settle my stomach. I ate half a box.  The cost to clean the lady's fur coat seated ahead of us discouraged him from trying other remedies.  I eventually discovered my sea legs on my own.

Creative Write: Recall your favorite foods during childhood and who influenced your eating habits.  Do you connect disliked food items with events?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Curiosity and Connections

What do laundry and flower pots bring to mind?  

Make lists of words with rhythm and sound qualities that hook into imagery. After deciding on diverse categories like clothing or food, choose several words in each group that provide possibilities for the romp for rhythm. 

This search for nuance frees the mind and tickles the synapses. Nothing has to make sense. Delve into wonder with a bounce of words and the ways they nudge one another.  Lines flow with syncopation along the way. When humor tags along, the exercise stimulates all the brain cells.

This romp challenges all expectations and spins the senses.  Regardless of life's hurdles, you will wordle in all types of weather.

frills                                      persimmon

pinafore                                artichoke
lace                                      aubergine
satin                                     grapefruit
gaberdine                             asparagus
rain coat                               broccoli
overalls                                 tomato
sash                                      apricot


Let the play begin with a frill of persimmon.  Aubergine in gaberdine discovers a taste of lemon by an artichoke hidden in a pinafore's pocket.  What sprocket of surprise would arise in the ruffles of grapefruit at sunrise?  A rain coat awaits a tomato that pouts but never doubts sounds of laughter.  Sally wears overalls as her fingers nudge into the forest of broccoli.  If apricot dons a sash of geen and lace who would make the mistake of sailing into an asparagus dream?

Creative Write:  Choose two unlikely combinations.  Try wild animals and state capitols.  Discover a Sacramento's dance with a wildcat or what a giraffe in Laramie will decree.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

International Reading

 I always choose a book by its cover and scent.

In the past months, I’ve discovered several novels that have taken me on a trip around the world. They have revealed historical insights with flavor. The storytelling provided well-designed characters, intrigue, and writing laced with sensory imagery. 

I invite you to delve into their curiosities.

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese, stitches the surgical lives of characters with the political turmoil of Ethiopia. The storytelling, tinged with a magical sense of goodness among individuals, has a way of downplaying their poor choices, challenges and frustrations. The author, a surgeon himself, shares his sensitivity and excellent writing ability in every page. I'm eager for his next novel.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford, features Seattle during the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. The story follows the mind of a twelve year old Chinese boy trying to understand his parents’ prejudices. He deals with bullies and a romance-in-training with a Japanese girl. The novel's chapter shifts from childhood to his adult personality provide additional insights.

THE LOTUS EATERS by Tatjana Soli reveals a Vietnam of the senses through the eyes of an American female photo journalist embedded with troops during their actual fighting. Vietnam itself becomes a character to dissolve her naivete. She also has emotional involvements with an American journalist and a Vietnamese man.

PYM, written by professor of African American literature, Mat Johnson, takes a visit to Antarctica and discovers more about Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel, THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET. Don’t read the reviews first, just take a chance on the novel for its entertainment value, literary qualities and humor. Stay open and amused with this one.

I’ve just started TIGER HILLS by Sarita Mandanna and have already learned the significance of a “tiger wedding” in India. More to come.

Share a novel you’ve read that piqued your interest from an international or historical view.

The Heart of the Matter

Louise Bishop's work, WORDS, STONES AND HERBS (2007) focuses on the healing power of literature. She discovered a 15th-century manuscript which provides treatment for everything from a flesh wound to mental ailments. In medieval times, medicine involved the study of language related to the seasons and the power of nature.

A doctor often placed a written charm on a broken leg to speed the recovery process. What we today consider, the placebo effect, became a vital part of medicine back then. Bishop mentions that people would memorize 150 lines of poetry to assist healing.

Years ago I learned from Dr. Norman Cousins that humor heals. A day of silliness, writing and naps gets the job done when the mind and body have challenges.

The Heart of the Matter
Why does the heart always get credit
when pleasure or pain take the breath away?
“We do the work,” say the lungs.
“Breathe. Breathe. We fix it.”
The heart claims it never breaks,
“I don’t even wrinkle.”
Fingers create fists, “We feel, really feel.”
"Well, we run from distress,” the feet say.
Liver and kidneys shout that they
deal with all bodily evils first.
The eyes edge in,
“Tears wash away the chaos.”
“Hey, don’t forget us adenoids and tonsils,
if you still have them."
“Anyone home?" asks the spleen" The appendix
can’t even pronounce vestigial.”
The navel chuckles, “Don’t ask the colon for its opinion.”
The brain has remained complacent
“Have fun without me,” it sings
as it flits out an ear.
                        - Penny Wilkes

Creative Write: Take a day for self-healing. Write about the human body.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ponds of Possibilities

Enchantment, fun and wonder become needs in life and writing. Why not incorporate elements that mix illusion with the every day life? Let unlikely images collide. Weave dreams with logic. Get 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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Write Beyond Ordinary

We take everyday items for granted.  Imagine the creative minds behind them.

Think zipper.  Did Mr. Zipper, consider a solution to keep the wind away more a button could?  Did he happen upon railroad tracks?   Then an "Aha" moment struck?

The paper clip could have evolved from an orthodontist tired of bending one more wire. He twisted, turned it and tossed it on his desk.  Then he collected his paper work together instead of straightening teeth.

Feathers inspired the notion of Velcro. How did the key or safety pin arrive for use?  Someone became frustrated with burned fingers and designed the coffee collar.

Discomfort has produced an intrigue with problem solving.  The creativity of the human spirit amazes.

Creative Write:   What will you invent today in writing that moves you beyond ordinary?  Ask yourself a series of "What ifs" and see where the writing flows.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Use of Smell and Taste

Don't forget to add smell and taste to enrich writing. They spark a reader's attention and tickle memories.

In "Search of Lost Time," Marcel Proust's narrator dips a cake into his tea.  When he sips, the crumbs blended with the warmth of the fluid transport him into an altered state.  He's filled with pleasure and joy that dissolve his former feelings of mediocrity and mortality.

Does a familiar scent transport you back in time?  Combine the details of smell and taste with warmth and texture to describe a state of mind.

Share a memory involving smell and taste.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

How often do you receive a letter in the mailbox? A blue envelope sits inside addressed in ink to you from someone sharing thoughts and feelings. Maybe a greeting card springs from the box?

With cell phones and email so handy, we have lost the art of letter writing. Many college students today do not even know what a fountain pen can do.

I love to share my life in letters to family and friends. My affinity for correspondence began when my father pushed me to write thank you notes for birthday and holiday gifts. How does one write about a tea cup and saucer with "gratitude"? Whatever use is a demitasse set to a nine year old anyway?

I didn't play with dolls or invite them to tea. I did find a use for the cup. Its design of green vines and trumpet flowers looked better filled with earth and a seedling. Did I dare explain in a letter to a Great Aunt how an antique adapted?

My father understood and encouraged my sharing of thoughts and feelings after the initial line of thanks. "Write what's outside the window," he'd say. "Go outside and sit for awhile under the magnolia tree. What are the birds doing? What sounds and scents do you observe?" He always pushed for the sensory details and to name everything. It's not just a bird. It's a red-tailed hawk or mourning dove.

Off I'd go with pen and pad and a grumble or two. Soon my pen flowed in turquoise or emerald across the page with ideas and stories.

Creative Write: Craft a thank you letter for an undesired gift you received as a child. Or, write your thoughts and feellings from the present moment to a friend. What's outside your window to follow?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Simple

Spring arouses thoughts about renewal in writing. Take an opportunity to consider how to prepare for writing rejuvenation.

Keep it SIMPLE:

S:   Savor the growth around you in daisies, daffodils, crocuses, and tulips. Watch nature’s daily progress. See how the birds and insects prepare for spring.

I:    Invest in your imagination. Forget the Stock market and the world’s concerns. Imaginate each moment. Make discoveries, connections and write. write. write.

M:   Meditate in your own way. Observing your breath creates awareness and relaxation. Focus on it for one or two intervals during the day. Sit comfortably, breathe in six times and out six times. Gradually extend your exhalations. Try for a fifteen minute period where you erase the jumble from your mind. Let thoughts flow by like clouds.

P:    PLAY. Distract yourself with fun and frolic.

L:    Let go. Enjoy humor and spread it around.

E:    Eat healthy foods and Exercise.

Spring into YOU!    Believe in yourself and your writing. It will grow stronger when you add your own spring fervor.

Creative Write: Find a word (sycamore, pelican, dandelion, salmon) and create your spring renewal with suggestions for each letter. Have FUN!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Patience, Perseverance and Play

The object in life is to find that undertaking, that occupation with which you have infinite patience.   - John Ruskin

When you think about writing projects, which approaches have you discovered work the best when confronted with setbacks and frustrations? Do you wait with patience and drive the words with persistence?  Or, do you relent and turn the ideas into fodder for use elsewhere?

Do you notice that the writing returns to you in a different form when left alone?  Each piece of writing has its time to bloom.

What writing have you abandoned you might return to today?  View the writing in a fresh light. Push away judgments.  Let yourself play.

Find a story, essay or poem hiding in a file or molding in a drawer. Search your computer files for one also. Look for the most deserving culprit; one that has defied you for too long.

Print one of its pages or shuffle hard copy and choose a page. Read through the page and begin a new train of thought. Circle the sentences or words that appeal. Do a freewrite and see where it travels.

Discover a fresh metaphor or add sensory imagery like sound and taste.

Explore the sentences from upside down. Transmogrify. Translate into them into another language. Throw the words in the air and laugh when they land in a heap. Tease them out for rejuvenation.

Share your insights with us.  What results did you achieve?

Friday, April 1, 2011

April - Celebrate Poetry

Federico Garcia Lorca, the gypsy poet of Southern Spain, 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 duendeand recognize it when it happens. It is a spirit that is more than one’s spirit.

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 of 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 ended 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: How do you define your dazzlement with words?  Write several lines to celebrate April.