Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scents of Pleasure

Do you use herbs and flowes to flavor the air and cooking?

Rosemary, called "dew of the sea" finds nourishment in sea mist and humidity. Greek mythology reveals it adorned Aphrodite when she rose from the sea. Its fragrance flavors meats and stews.  Native to the Mediterranean region, it grows in Southern California as a landscape plant.  When it's shaped annually in the garden, the aroma scents the breeze, clothes and work gloves.  Take a few springs to add to your car, or for use in the kitchen.

Bay trees flavor many dishes like spaghetti sauce.  They also have symbolic meaning.  Greeks fashioned the bay laurel leaves into crowns to place on the heads of victors in games and battles.  The God, Zeus, loved the laurel.  It contain oils used in medicines to treat breathing ailments.

In addition to flavoring food,  plants provide olefactory effects. Lavender provides a sense of ease when we need relaxation.

Geraniums, a common garden plant,  exudes an odor that meets with mixed reviews.  They can smell like rose, peppermint, even chocloate and lime.

Leaves of camphor and eucalyptus refresh when crushed or rubbed.

Roses used in sachets and potpourris also add fragrance to water, baths and waft through a room when cut and placed in a vase.  After the flowers of the rose have been pollinated, the fruits form rosehips.  They add flavor to tea and provide vitamin C.

Today, stop and smell the flowers and herbs. Slow down, relax and take in the simple pleasures.

Share your favorites with us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking. 
-Sir Walter Scott

After the Civil War, the government created a holiday to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who had died in battle. Union general John Logan chose May 30th because it did not honor the anniversary of any battle.

When World War I ended, they extended the idea to honor all United States soldiers who died in any war.

In 1968, Congress's Uniform Holidays Act severed the link between Memorial Day and the original date, changing it instead to "the last Monday in May" to allow for a three-day weekend.

It has become a holiday for families to remember anyone they have lost (veteran or otherwise), to lay flowers at grave sites,

For those unable to travel to the graves of their loved ones, there are websites like FindAGrave.com, where one can create a cyber-monument and leave a "virtual" note or bouquet.

What will you write about Memorial Day?

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Every story, love or war, is a story about looking left when we should have looked right  
- Sarah Blake from The Postmistress

Remember a time you made a choice that sent you in a different direction than planned?

      Think about a decision that eliminated a serious change in your life.

                Recall a situation where you, by chance, turned right instead of left.

Follow these memories in a freewrite.  Where will your choices take you today?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Attitude of Noticing

Every morning
the world
is created. 
Under the orange 

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again 

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands    - Mary Oliver

Poet, Mary Oliver believes in an "attitude of noticing." When she opens her senses, nature reveals its details.

Writing-as-mindfulness requires full presence in every moment. It requires an act of curiosity.

Focus on attention, awareness and an attitude of noticing.  Reveal nature's wonder in your writing today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A View of Uncertainty

“The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.”  Kenko

In the 14th century, a poet and Buddhist monk named Yoshido Kenko wrote thoughts on life, death, nature, manners, humility and simplicity.  He lived in exile at a cottage where he composed his essays.

Kenko believed in 'zuihitsu' - follow the brush - as a method of composition.  He painted thoughts as they came to him on scraps of paper, then attached them to his cottage walls.  They survived through the centuries by chance.  A poet friend collected them from the walls and Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) became a part of Japanese literature.

He believed leaving something incomplete gives room for growth. Kenko disliked perfection, believing asymmetry and irregularity became better goals in life.  His imagery included moons in the clouds, cherry blossoms strewn and faded on the earth.  He admired the uncertainty of a branch about to blossom.

Here are three of Kenko's views.
                     How will you follow the brush today and write about them?

A certain recluse, I know not who, once said that no bonds attached him to this life, and the only thing he would regret leaving was the sky.

Are we only to look at flowers in full bloom, at the moon when it is clear?

To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations—such is a pleasure beyond compare.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Networks and Writing

Shakespeare, Montaigne or Dante probably would have used Facebook or Tweeted. They might have caused their languages to evolve with their own varieties of text-speak.

Do you believe our social network of communication improves the quality of thinking and writing? Or, does it compromise syntax and grammar?

How has "instant communication" affected your writing?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

People Watching

"What saves me from the tedium of another day is falling hopelessly in love with the people I meet: the curly-haired barista at the coffee shop who hands me my change as if dipping his fingers into holy water; the elderly couple who grow giant bubble-gum-colored puffs of dahlias; the toddler across the street who bleats,"Mama, come see?" 
- Bobbie Willis

Don't watch the news for a day.  Instead, watch for an amazement or amusement in humanness.  Look for the greatness in others and discover a few precious moments.

Share them with us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Endurance: Looking for the Capo d'astro bar

Back in the sixties, Bud Robbins was hired to write advertising copy for the Aeolian Piano Company.  The ad would appear in the New York Times for their grand piano. Robbins knew nothing about pianos and couldn't even play one.  He had no idea why someone would spend $5000 (back then) when they could purchase a Baldwin or Steinway for the same amount.

Bud toured the factory for two days.  Just before leaving, the national sales manager escorted him into the showroom.  The Aeolian piano appeared alongside the Steinway and Baldwin, in an elegant setting.

The sales manager mentioned, "Even though all pianos look alike, ours is heavier. "

"What makes yours heavier," asked Robbins.

"We have the Capo d'astro bar," the reply.

The sales manager asked Robbins to get down on his knees and look under the piano.  He pointed to a metallic bar fixed across the harp that bore down on the highest octaves.

"It takes 50 years before the harp in the piano warps.  That's when the Capo d'astro bar goes to work. It prevents that warping," the manager explained.

Bud Robbins searched under the Baldwin and Steinway but didn't find the same bar, only a toy-like version.

Robbins asked, "It doesn't go to work for 50 years?"

The manager said, "Yes, that's why the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City uses this piano. Their bar should be working by now."

Robbins went to the person in charge of moving the Metropolitan Opera House to the Lincoln Center, Carmen Rise Stevens.  She told him the only item they took with them was the piano because of its tone and quality that only gets stronger with time.

During his advertising career, Bud Robbins searched and discovered the Capo d'astro bar in all his clients and products dedicated to excellence and endurance.

Everyone has a strength that kicks in when most needed.   Search for your own Capo d'astro bar. It will enable you to outlast challenges during times of stress.

After you locate your Capo d'astro bar, describe what it looks and feels like when it goes to work.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Possibilities and Open Spaces

It is generally a good thing to carry possibilities in your pocket: you never know when you might need them - unknown

Consider the possibilities we need as writers. We write ourselves out of and into holes and spaces. Openings appear.

We learn to break open to our process and discover it's vital to, "Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of nature," as Henry David Thoreau observed.

How do we also remain open to the changes and transitions in life and avoid the traps? We need to observe nature's ways and watch the unfurling of a rose. The times of twilight intrigue when the sky opens to light and darkens at dusk. The trill of birdsong out of silence awakens us at dawn. What occurs within the fissures where water sneaks and bubbles form?

Our awareness pushes our eyes, ears, noses and taste buds to the next curiosity. Do we dare fall into an opening, like Alice? Will we permit our pens and fingers on keyboards to explore with courage and risk?

When we look for openings, we risk the chance to make mistakes. If closed, we miss opportunities and all the wild and wide open places.

Celebrate the season and spring into possibilities today.

Creative Write
: What does it mean to become open and receptive to possibilities?

Choose a metaphor for how you might express openness. Explore possibilities in freewrites. Consider what represents an opening of awareness: Write about a missing piece.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Short Story Basics

Setting:  Where does it occur?  Show it in a room, a natural setting, or within the inner reaches of the character's mind.

Character(s):  Something happens to someone who is called the "protagonist."  Someone or something else (the weather, an unknown force) is involved to provoke the action called the "antagonist."

Conflict: During the course of the story, something (action) has to happen.  What is the initiating incident or the set up of the problem)  The protagonist wants something and struggles to get it.

Crisis:  The short story has only one pivotal point.  Something intensifies the struggle creating tension.  The dam is filled and about to go.

Climax: The dam bursts.  The protagonist makes a choice.

Realization and Resolution:  The protagonist changes.  What is learned?  What is left behind?

Begin the story in the middle of something. Something happened before and something will happen after.  Don't tell the reader everything.  Intrigue the reader and move to a stopping point that begs the reader to continue wondering . . . and then what?

Leave the reader with an image.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Hypos and Hypers

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. That is my substitute for a pistol and a ball.
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Consider your "hypers" as well as what Melville considers the "hypos." What really gets to you?

What do you do when you feel frustrated and need a reprieve from life's challenges?  

How and what do you write when it's "high time to get to the sea"?

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Worthy Life

What does it mean to lead a "worthy" life?  Is it important to "do" something to benefit society as opposed to trying to "be" someone?  Do we need more focus on stewardship?

Consider what a healthy society needs from all its participants.  How well do we use the power of money?  Do we need more Heroes and Thinkers?  Do you believe in returning to another time in history when contentment and reciprocity occurred?

If you had to choose a philosophy to promote positive living, what three things would you write about?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turtle Life

You wake up to discover you've become a turtle.

You may take five items from your former life to your new adventure in the pond.

What will you take?

What will you do with your turtleness on the pond?


Deep learning happens when we are bewildered. We encounter ourselves and the world in ways that are totally unique when we are bewildered. It is one of the supreme adventures of life. The word bewilderment includes the word wild.   - Rod MacIver

Writers feel an attraction to notions and situations of bewilderment. Writing with curiosity reveals the unpredictable. Learning occurs each time we write into the wilderness.

What bewilders you today?  

Write without judgment and move into  knowledge about yourself and the world.

 Be wilder!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Play with Aphorisms

It isn't necessary that you leave home.  Sit at your desk and listen.  Don't even listen, just wait.  Don't wait, be still and alone.  The whole wold will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy. 
 -Franz Kafka.

An aphorism comes from the Greek, aphorismos, meaning to define.  We often think of aphorisms as adages or a statement of truth or opinion.

An aphorism can be viewed as a snapshot of a personal view.  It often feels like a condensed parable or story that teaches.

Write aphorisms today.

Provide your personal thoughts in sensory images.
     Create an answer in search of its question.
            Relay a personal moment.
                         Write sliver views of life in miniature.

Hitchhike off these:

Kafka wrote, "A cage went in search of a bird."

"Everything I know about love and its necessities
I learned in that one moment when I found myself. . ." - Anne Carson

Who am I is the question of owls.
Crow says, Get up.  -Jane Hirshfield

If you think you might be lost, you are.
If you know you're lost, you're at least free to look for the way. - James Richardson.

Rub words together. Braid sentences. Use metaphor. Play with shapes, sounds and scents.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Journey in Writing

If I have given my all and still do not win, I haven't lost. Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey. - Apolo Anton Ohno

Recall a time when you did not meet your own expectations.   Consider a relationship, sport or any life event that had an end result.  

Don't think win or lose. Consider the journey.

When you probe your memories, write about the details of the process you took to where you wanted to go. 

If you didn't get there, where did you arrive?  In reflection, what did it do for you?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sensing into Serenity

We flow through myriad moods each day.  Some stick longer than others in a search for serenity.

Go from one mood to another until you've written into a sense of serenity.

How does your body sense it? What does serenity feel, look, and even taste like?

Write about it so your reader can say, "Oh, I get it."  or "Hmmm, wish I could feel that way."

Search for phrases with sounds, scents and even tastes.  What sensations run in the arms and legs? What happens with internal feelings?  How does the skin feel?

Use comparisons and metaphors. Where do you feel it the most?

Show your serenity without mentioning the word or words like calm, joyful, balanced.  Move like a camera to reveal the essence.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's in the silence and white spaces?

Consider an old silence, an untold secret, a darkness. Define each with a concrete example. Dive for stories.

Investigate a former notion of you.

Get to the roots of your perceptions like an oak tree.

Dance in the white spaces and let the drips swirl.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What to Overlook

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. - William James

Take the notion of "overlook" and see where it goes.  
Does it mean to "forget about"?  Is "neglect" involved?
What if you stand on a cliff near a resort and look over 
something . . .

Let your writing lead you.  Show us overlook.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing About Fear and Pain

"My mother always says that fear and pain are immediate, and that, when they're gone, we're left with the concept, but not the true memory."  
- Tea Obreht from THE TIGER'S WIFE

Memories of fear and pain often feel less threatening when written about and dissected in detail.  Their strengths may diminish when transported to new venues or if turned into characters.

When you write about fear and pain, what memories do the two words bring?

What obstacles do you need to jump over, move around or through in writing about them?  

Create a dialogue with fear and pain as characters.  Use humor to move them into new realms to investigate. 

One Way Change

What could you change today to avoid a "one way" habit?


Take a different route to places all day.

Wear a long forgotten piece of clothing.

Think in couplets.

Eat with your fingers.

Sing your conversations.

Write like you mean it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Dreams provide ideas for writing.  Even disturbing sequences with their depth and mystery add possibiities to a writing life.

Make a list of images from dreams that reoccur.  Write them across the top of a page.

Probe and delve into them in a freewrite to see where they'll take you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How do you tie your shoes?

Archaeological reports are sparse where it comes to shoes and their laces. Decomposition over the years destroyed the remains. It appears shoelaces, woven in the Areni-1 shoe, date to around 3500 BC. Made of leather, the shoe had laces passing through slots cut into the hide. More complex shoes worn by Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 3300 BC, contained shoelaces made of lime bark string.

One story states Ghurka soldiers, fighting for Britain, crawled along the ground, feeling the laces of the soldiers they encountered. British soldiers tied straight-lacing but Japanese troops criss-crossed their laces Criss-cross laces could mean the difference between life and death. As a result, British troops focused on correct lacing.

Watching others tie their laces has always fascinated me. Over the years, I have observed a variety of lacers and inquired where they learned their techniques. My father taught me to make two lopes and tie them. Then, the bow would come out perfectly. He demonstrated that with only one side looped first, the bow appeared twisty. He showed me how to twirl it around to get the bow straight. Two loops at first felt easier.

Take time today to observe shoe lacers and all their behaviors. Are they flat or cross-lacers? Do their shoes reveal a double-helix or provide a checkboard pattern? Ask them who taught them their techniques. Observe them in action. You will be amazed and amused.

Share your research and stories with us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Facial Expressions

William Blake wrote:

There is a smile of love,
And there is a smile of deceit;
And there is a smile of smiles,
In which these two smiles meet.

And there is a frown of hate,
And there is a frown of disdain;
And there is a frown of frowns

Creative Write: Develop four characters who reveal emotions through facial expressions: love, deceit, hate and distain. Add body language to enhance the experience.

Don't reveal the emotions in the writing. Let us guess from your written portraits.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creating Characters

Nordstrom has a fragrance quiz to help customers decide their scent. When you turn it in, a specialist will help you choose your signature scent.

You love how your fragrance makes you feel:

A   Sensual and adventurous
B   Playful and energetic
C   Charming and romantic
D   Erotic and mysterious

Your fantasy vacation:

A  Ziplining across a rainforest canopy in Costa Rica
B  Snorkeling in the turquoise lagoon of Bora Bora
C  Whisking your sweetheart away for a series of cooking classes in Paris.
D  Cruising the bay of Monaco on a yacht with a private chef and your best friends.

When you treat yourself to a delicious dessert it’s:

A Carrot cake with whipped cream cheese frosting
B Lemon tart
C Strawberry shortcake with triple-whipped cream
D Chocolate molten lava cake

Your significant other wants to lavish you with a gift for no reason:

A  Custom-made Italian leather boots
B  Private tennis lesson with this year’s Wimbledon Champion
C  Three-dozen long-stemmed redroses , champagne and caviar
D  A two-hour hot stone massage

Mostly A -  Woodsy
Mostly B – Fresh
Mostly C – Floral
Mostly D - Oriental

Creative Write:  Take the above quiz and imagine a character for each letter.  After you’ve created them, have them meet for coffee.  Create a situation of intrigue, a disaster or a comical situation for them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

Moms and Children of a Forever Bond

What does it mean to have the connection of mother to child?
What does a mother expect and a child demand?
Does the role reverse?

Turn the abstractions into story situations to show expectations, demands, the love and chemistry involved.

Write your Mother's Day Story.

Be Yourself

"Be yourself.  No one can tell you you're doing it wrong." - Snoopy

Socrates focused on a process of  "know thyself" so what does it really mean to "be yourself"?

Socrates always questioned students to lead them to arrive at the truth themselves. He challenged individuals to reconsider their own prejudices and ideas. By urging them to think for themselves, they could evaluate truth from different angles.

His method of conversation and inquiry often irritated his students as it revealed the limitations of their thinking. Yet, Socratic method never had to directly tell people their inadequacies; they realized it themselves.

Socrates questioned everything and decided independently what would become worth pursuing. Studying  issues from both perspectives; he did not allow religious, political, or social conventions to affect him. With the forces of conformity in Greek society, this independence of thought and mind became a powerful way of thinking.

So what does it really mean to "be yourself?"

Creative Write: Write and respond to questions today to combine a Snoopy-Socratic way into self-discovery.  Who are you?  Why?  What talents do you have? What do you like about yourself?  What irritates you the most about you?  What would you change?  Keep probing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Challenge and the Weather

We earn more challenges by dealing with and overcoming more challenges. Embrace your experience. Enjoy the weather. 
 -  Sam Parker

Consider a major challenge you have overcome recently.  How would you compare it to the weather?  

Write into the details of the elements. How did they take over ? What did you do about it?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Metaphor Explorations

“We can so seldom declare what a thing is, except by saying it is something  else.”  - George Eliot

David Grove, a New Zealand psychotherapist, worked with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clients.   He noticed his clients used metaphors to describe troubling emotions and traumatic memories. He discovered it came easy to label an emotion: grief, fear, pride or happiness.

Conveying the emotion required language to express the experience of the feelings.   By using metaphors, his clients were able to  discover their real feelings.

Grove paid attention to clients’ metaphors and their personalized significance.  If a client stayed with a metaphor long enough, it elaborated.  Often it evolved into a kind of parable that contained a lesson. “The metaphors had a consistent structure and a direct relevance to the clients experience, “ Grove says. “When the metaphors changed, the people changed too.”

He used the metaphors to achieve emotional insight and psychological change and called it “Clean Language.”  Clean language is meant to, “pare away the therapist’s own assumptions, ideas and biases.”  It’s a blank slate on which the client paints a metaphorical landscape.

Clients pursued the unexpected and idiosyncratic. Grove did not interpret the imagery which he believed interfered with the therapeutic process.

Grove devised questions to elicit and enhance the client metaphors.  The questions addressed the metaphor itself not what is thought about it.  The experience stays in the moment.

Metaphor has a paradoxical power.  It distances an experience by equating it with something else.  Bt writing the details. it actually brings the experience closer.  If you talk about what something is not, you determine what it is.

Creative Write: Try this exercise with your writing today.

Choose a situation where you felt fear, grief, pride, or joy.  Write in a metaphor.  For example, you can begin with: I feel like an animal out of its cage.

After you write the initial metaphor, list questions below the metaphor and go into detail.
What kind of animal?
What does it look like in shape and color?
What about the sounds and movement of the animal?
What does the animal eat?
Where does the animal want to go?

See where a freewrite takes you.  Share your experience with us.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Historical Character for a Day

What historical character would you like to emulate today?

Get into character and decide where and how to begin your day.  How will you feel transported to the present?  What will amaze or startle you the most?  Could you bring an experience from the past to fix a situation in the present?

Go for it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Write Unsettled

World events have flooded the media and held us captive the first three days of May.  How has the barrage of news affected your moods and beliefs?  Do you feel unsettled or ?

Enter your emotional core and connect with thinking in the moment about your concerns with a world beyond your control.  What can you control?  What do you offer to our weary planet?

Let your writing help you discover your place.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Difficult Planting

It's time again. Tear up the violets and plant something more difficult to grow. 
                                          - James Schuyler

No, don't tear up what's growing. Make room for harder-to-grow blooms in your writing. 

Is it time to raise your intensity level?

Research a hard-to-grow plant. Read about its care and nurture. What extra does this plant need for it to thrive?

How similar do you find a difficult writing project? What can you write that you haven't tried before?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

Happy May Day

May lst incorporates traditions from the Gaelic Beltane celebrated with feasts and rituals. The name means fire of Bel; Belinos being one name for the Sun God, whose coronation feast is celebrated. The plant world blossoms and an exuberant mood prevails. 

In the old Celtic times, young people would spend the entire night in the woods "A-Maying," and then dance around the Maypole the next morning. 
May morning brings a magical time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health.

Many Celtics would rise at the first light of dawn to gather flowers and branches to decorate their homes. Women  braided flowers into their hair.  Beltane marks the return of vitality, of passion. 

Celebrate May Day near a water source.
Go for a walk in a forest setting.
        Search for water sprints and fairies. 
Gather plants or flowers to display in your home.

Enjoy fantasies.
    Create stories about the natural world.  
Benefit from the magic in the air and write about it.

Do you have a May Day story to share?