Sunday, June 30, 2013

No Advice Benefits

Benjamin Franklin said, "Wise men don't need advice. Fools won't take it." Charles Shultz might have adapted Lucy's sign in agreement. 

Most of the time no one heeds advice and would pay to avoid it. Active listening supports family and friends but individuals gain skills in problem solving by trial and error. Everyone needs experiences to gain knowledge.

If you must delve into the depths of another's concerns try these suggestions:

Avoid jumping in to solve another's problem.  

Ask questions instead of providing solutions. Help someone think about the issues.

Share experiences and lessons learned without offering advice. 

Emphasize how your experiences could be different or similar.

Encourage rather than judge. Avoid negativity.

Refer to professionals to impart knowledge about life skills. 

Suggest resources in articles, books, or web-based information.

Communicate with encouragement.

Become an example and shine your light rather than direct with it.  

Ask for 5 cents for no advice.

Creative Write:  Write about ways to avoid providing advice and how to benefit from them.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Windows of Interpretation

Stories engage the reader's attention in simple and subtle ways. One might share an imbedded message or leave it up to the reader to decide the theme. 

Consider the following story once told in Wales.

A young couple had just settled into their new home in Cardiff. The next morning while they ate breakfast, the wife watched her neighbor hanging the wash.

“Look at that dirty laundry,” the wife said. "She doesn't know how to wash. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap?”

Her husband looked but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor hung her wash to dry, the wife made the same comments.

A month later, the wife commented on the clean wash on the line and remarked to her husband,“Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?”

The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

Does the story reveal coaxing? Or, does the message mean that what we see when watching others depends on the window's quality?

Creative Write:  Develop a story that leaves the reader wondering.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Bear Story

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” —Gustave Flaubert

I recently read, The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle. Suspending all notions of reality, what fun I had watching a bear stumble upon a manuscript in the woods and decide to become an author. 

Is the bear the next Hemingway; raw and back to nature? Concurrently, the manuscript's author drops into depression after losing a manuscript he has hidden under a tree. His anger and melancholia lead him back into the woods.

The satire mimics the world of publishing and life. The bear becomes more human and dresses well. Enchanted by his writing, no one even notices he's a bear. The real author behaves in a bearlike fashion. 

The literal-mindedness of the bear's reaction to humans concerns their mating rituals, the hoarding of food, things important in life. Like the best fable, Kotzwinkle shows us through his bear character that all of these things we accept are so much more. He also reveals, through the human author, that city life is only part of the story.

The question for the reader involves the strangeness of the bear attributed to the eccentricity of an author. We follow the process of how the bear becomes more convinced of his own "personhood." 

Enjoy a read on many levels.

Creative Write: If you took on the characteristics of animal as a writer, what story would you tell?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Write Out of Your Mind

We own a variety of emotions and moods that have the ability to teach us about ourselves and how we relate to others. A message resides in every emotion. They reflect like mirrors and challenge us to discover ways to watch the many sides of our personalities.

Our moods create a spectrum that bounces the mirrors. As writers we can use the bands of light to examine the writing process. Moods provide insights and information for character development. They add texture to our prose and poetry.

Martha Nussbaum writes in her book, Upheavals of Thought, “ [There's] no firewall between emotion and intellect.” Often we fear or flee from our moods. We try to rationalize them rather than attempt to swim in their murky waters. We repress them with the force of will but discover they will crest again.

Our intellect does not overcome anger. The quickest emotion to arise, it requires acknowledgment. If we develop ways to examine and even appreciate it, then it will roll in and dissipate like waves to shore.

Eastern philosophies reveal that emotional states have no hierarchy. Awareness and acceptance ebb and flow through awakening to suffering. All elements of consciousness must  flow through us. Avoidance in a variety of means only delays the ability to harmonize within ourselves. If we face our emotions with honesty and develop an inner wisdom filled with ways to accommodate them, their full range will provide a balanced life experience.

Take a break. Rather than avoidance of what's going on - probe your mood. What do words like sad and melancholy mean to you? How do they percolate through your body? Launch into the details and stretch toward discovery of ways to describe them beyond their word symbol. What other words elaborate their meaning?

Eliminate the usage of words to describe moods. Create metaphors to discuss frustrated, angry or confused. In what ways can concerned, playful, fierce or attentive reveal themselves? If stuck in various states of despair how can one move through this experience?

Creative Write: Spend a day following the ebb and flow of your moods. Take notes and allow the freeflow of all emotions. Don't judge or censor them; try not to become reactive. Remain fully present.

Experience what they feel like in all parts of the body. What can you learn as they guide you? Let your notes sit for a day, then return and write about what you discovered.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Focus on the Moment

Deal only with the moment and not the possible consequences of your action.  - Mother Teresa

How many times have you focused so much on the end result of writing that you missed the opportunities and idea shifts?   You straight-lined it and rushed to the finish.  Speed didn't show the results expected did it?

In the initial stages of creativity, the writing process has no destination. It is right here, right now, one word after another. Speed and time do not matter. The focus moves beyond the obsession of getting something out that's perfect.

Writing should not become a struggle.  Don't miss the moments in movement.

Get past any barrier without a fight.  Jump over or push it away. Feel the victory of words that slide from fingers across the keyboard or while a pen flows on paper.

Let process and goal stay fluid.  You need to know what to accomplish and then get rid of expectations.  Move into and out of the way of writing. Take a detour, turn a different corner and play!

Creative Write:  Focus on a writing project that stumps you. Let detours assist your process. Try all directions beyond the barriers.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dwell in the Unknown

"A quote from W.S. Merwin: 'I have with me all that I do not know. I have lost none of it.' For me that’s where creativity dwells, that’s where the discovery is, that is where curiosity leads us — to that place of both not knowing and unknowing." 
~ Terry Tempest Williams

Begin writing about everything you do not know. Go for the questions. How will you extend your creativity to push barriers? 

Consider the artichoke. Imagine who thought to rake teeth through the leaves to eat the pulp?  Who pursued into the sweetness of the heart past all the prickles? 

Crack open creativity.

Where will you investigate? 

What hides that needs revealing? 

Who holds a mystery to delve into?  

Push into a place of secrecy.

Ask why?

Dwell in an unknown. 

Make a discovery by pushing words.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Moodle

Serotonin, the brain's feel-good chemical, interacts with receptors to spread happiness, satisfaction and relaxation. How do we wrestle with shades of experience? We have the ability to move from intense moments then glide into realms of ease. At other times we just struggle, stuck in the middle of funk. The complexity of the human endocrine system toys with our balance.

All the advances in medicine and technology cannot provide a life of satisfaction. Only we can access the center of wisdom in the brain and do what needs doing. We must engage with our highs, lows and middles by discovering ways to dislodge discomfort and energize the interactions in the brain for positive results.

With writing we have the ability to alter our moods or, at least, write about and through them.

Creative Write: Get several sheets of paper and a pen that flows across the page. Find a location where you can write undisturbed for an hour. Write your current mood across the top of the page. Begin writing and do not cross out or feel concern about the words that flow. Let one drop, then another.

See where your mind takes you until the end of the page. Has your mood changed? Write the replacement mood across the top of the next page and begin again. Follow your moods for an hour.

Try writing with a variety of colors. To dislodge cranky, use green. If tired, write with red or magenta. If restless, try blue for its tranquil qualities.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Car Memories

After our wedding, Michael and I moved to Eugene, Oregon in a 1967 Oldsmobile 442. We crammed everything we owned inside or under a tarp on top of "Willie." The road ahead beckoned with adventure.

The 442 meant: four hundred cubic inches in the engine, four speed Hurst shifter and dual exhaust. It rolled with a throaty rummm rummm. Alloy wheels and tiger paw tires gripped the road. An electronic ignition of transistors sparked the engine; a new innovation at that time. The designers misplaced the device under the hood where it joined the body. In the Oregon rain it fried twice which also frizzled our student budget supplied by multiple jobs. 

We moved to La Jolla and traded Willie for a Volvo. A year later I saw ol' Wil parked on the street. Did the new owner still find rice from our wedding and other dark bits from a hamster who got lost in the car for a week?  I left a note but never received a response.

We dubbed the silver Volvo, Arrow, after watching a cartoon about a car bouncing along to the tune of, "Me and My Arrow." Poor thing suffered fuel injection issues and sun-damaged paint. Arrow transmogrified into a VW bus. We named it Murgatroyd. Its Cheshire cat grin and hibiscus curtains aroused nostalgia for Hawaii and hippie days in Eugene. The Murg transported us to dog shows around the country.

Recently during a morning run I noticed the creature pictured above. Could it be? Rust certainly hadn't rested in a salt air climate and inattention. I'll bet dog hairs linger on the carpet. If, by chance, it is the same vehicle, I hope they don't have to crawl underneath and pound it with a hammer when it doesn't start.

Cars transport and protect us. They develop their own scents after the new car aroma fades. Sounds only they make define their personalities. Each roars a failing and an endearment. Exteriors carry the tattoos of bumps and benders. Cars become part of the family and remain vital as a horse did to a cowboy crossing the prairie.

Creative Write:  Recall your first car.  What memories linger of relationships, scents and sounds? Describe your life by the cars that have roared through it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Write the Three Cs

"We must create and find our own stories, our own myths with symbols that will bind us to the world as we see it today."  - Terry Tempest Williams

A personal narrative includes a desire, struggle and realization.  More than an accounting of events, it includes emotional, moral and psychological tones which give meaning to the events.

Story shape:

You have a desire that starts the story.

You struggle to gain it through an action or actions.

You feel challenges with interrelated events that you make happen or happen to you.

Because of what happens, you become a different person.  You realize something as a result of the struggle.  You may see things differently with resulting wisdom. Or, you do not gain insight.

You have a realization or a series of realizations and a shift in values or perception. Possibly you learn nothing from the life lesson and continue to make similar choices that end in negative results.

Creative write: Tell your story by describing a desire and challenges to reach a result.  Write about the three Cs: You take a chance, make a choice, notice a change.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Moonstruck at Summer Solstice

When my Daddy pointed to summer’s full moon he said, “See the bunny?”  
"Where?" I squeezed my eyes to find it.
"Imagine a clock. Look at the 1 and 2 for the ears. Find the tail at about 7 o’clock," he said.

I learned to tell time in circular before digital clocks

The moon rabbit appears in fables, folklore and poetry around the world. Sansanka, the moon in Sanskrit translates, "having the marks of a hare."

In a Buddhist fable, a monkey, jackal and rabbit happened upon a beggar who needed food. While the monkey gathered fruits from trees, the jackal caught a lizard and stole a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit only ate grass and had nothing to offer the beggar. She flung herself into the fire the man had built. Suddenly, the man revealed himself as the god, Sakra. Touched by the rabbit's sacrifice, he designed her likeness on the moon for everyone to see.

The Han Dynasty poets referred to the "Jade Rabbit" or the "Gold Rabbit." These Chinese characters represented a word for the moon: 玉兔  金兔 

A Taoist fable revealed a hare, the gemmeous, who served the genii. The creature ground an elixir of immortality on the moon. Imperial Chinese robes of the 18th-century revealed the white hare making the elixir in embroidery.

Told in a Native American Cree legend, a rabbit wished to ride the moon. The crane agreed to fly him there.  As the rabbit's weight pulled during the trip, it stretched the bird's legs. They remained elongated from then on. When they reached the moon, the rabbit touched the crane's head leaving a red mark. The rabbit still rides the moon.

by Cyra R. Cancel
The Tezcucans of Mexico said the sun and moon started out equal in brightness until a god took a rabbit by its heels and flung it into the moon's face to dim its light.

Silhouette Tease

Wolf runs
from the prairie
jounces into the sky
unable to
snatch the rabbit 
stuck on lunar highlands

Once the moon glowed
clean as bone
until sun flung
rabbit there
for resisting 
the bidding
to dash him
the earth

Now sun
lures wolf
hoodwinks him
with light beams
to reveal the rabbit 
in the moon
Sun laughs 
 as wolf howls
at his prey
          - Penny Wilkes

Creative Write: 
Look for the bunny tonight. Enjoy a writing festival today in celebration of Summer Solstice. Imagine yourself reveling at Stonehenge near the fire wondering about the rabbit in the moon. Think about Shakespeare and enjoy a midsummer night's dream.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writing Gathas

When birdsong is loud in the trees
I vow with all beings
to put down my work and to listen,
recreated as song.  - Robert Aiken  from The Dragon Who Never Sleeps

A gatha is a Buddhist vow that expresses the interconnectedness and interdependence of an individual with nature. The first line sets up a situation in nature beginning with the word when or whenever.

When planting lilies in my garden
When I hear the sparrows sing
When I smell sea spray

The second line, "I vow with all beings" represents the basic commitment of the Buddhist gatha. You might substitute another commitment or promise.

I promise to myself
I make a commitment to the earth
I pledge myself

The last two lines tell of the promise and begin with to.

to put aside worries
to stay focused
to engage with . . .

Gathas focus on everyday aspects of life and express how all beings and things connect. The gatha form becomes meaningful way to express the interdependence felt when observing nature.

When I hear the Black Phoebe's call
I promise to us both
to remain in the moment
and sing of love

Creative Write:  Arrange your gathas today to connect and express your interdependence with nature.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Sprint of Twitter

Twitter turns a marathon runner into a sprinter. The shorthand and speed of the game take time to absorb and put into action. It energizes my creativity and humor.

I completed a course on ways to use Twitter for students in my college writing classes. Before the class, I read tweets then tweeted my blog entries but not daily activities.  Three weeks of study provided a different world of opportunity.

The first lesson, to participate in a live event, raced over my head. What did a “live event” mean? Instructor said to see what others did. We also had to add a companion. That didn’t help so I created my own live events. 

I tweeted a kite festival designed with photo, fun and imagery. Feeling buoyant from the first attempt, I added an evening in Las Vegas with Johnny Depp and a sunset camel ride. Unfortunately, the instructor did not agree that my humor and fantasies filled the bill. Another attempt needed.
Searching again, I tweeted the NCAA track and field championship to satisfy the assignment. By the time the tweet posted, others in the class had asked about the location of my festival. Learning by innovation always keeps me going.
Neither Henry James nor William Faulkner would have relished a communication in 140 characters. I can imagine Hemingway chuckling in delight. Dr. Seuss might have tweeted a greet and repeat. Shakespeare's humor would blaze. Poets weave words with rhythm, so it feels natural to tweet. Fortune cookie creators have a blast, I'm sure.

Tweeting for yourself and hoping for an audience seems like the norm. Social media appeals to writers to promote their work. Most have Facebook pages and blogs. Platform development increases with the outreach and results in responses from around the world. 

Could Twitter reach beyond the basics of publicizing what you have written and/or proving that you still exist? Definitely. I visited an educators' group tweet that provided myriad ideas and insights although the pace made my eyes twirl. 

Errors abound in 140 spaces. Grammar does not rule. I have noticed the misuse of words, apostrophes, plurals and more. If tweeters can't get to the point in nouns and verbs they resort to initials, abbreviations and cyberspeak. In one corner, numbers count down to red to reveal the space remaining. A sprint in editing happens backwards. 

One day the Twitter potential will appear in my writing classes. I have to practice wind sprints to run the 140 at a faster clip. My marathon mind will outlast with one step after another in @, # and RT's. As I discover simple ways to reveal the intricacies of tweeting, creativity will increase. Onward to investigate tweets in other languages.

Creative Tweet:  Express a mood to fill 140 spaces.

*In gratitude to coach, Lisa Chan for an intense workout!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rapid Write: Six R's

I received an email with a request and an ASAP.  A family planned to put together a graduation book for their son. He would leave for college within days so they asked for a "wisdom" quotation from me ASAP . . . as in yesterday. They needed 150 words or less.

Others' procrastination sparks creativity, I chuckled.

Receiving the email after my yoga class, I had fifteen minutes to ponder what to write ASAP on the drive home. 

Stop lights reigned red in my favor. I scribbled ideas on the dashboard pad. Turning into my driveway, I hatched a plan.

Here's my ASAP:

Six R’s for a Balanced Life:

Respect:  Work on self-esteem from your inside out. Share it with everyone.
Reliance:  Enrich your talents and keep learning with insight.
Responsibility:  Make informed choices. Express gratitude.
Resilience: Don’t let any audience dictate your moods. Stay buoyant.
Renewal: Enjoy moments:  music, laughter, friendships, and fun.
Reverence: For family and friends and spiritual strength.

Creative Write:  Try a rapid write. You have 15 minutes to write a wisdom statement in 150 words or less.  Go for it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Storytelling in the Air

According to Walter Benjamin, storytelling reveals lived experience. He says, "Every story contains openly or covetly, something useful . . . a moral, practical advice, a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller has counsel for readers."

An act of storytelling arrives from the combination of what we know or perceive and what we add to it. 

It might begin with an observation then involve a query, wonderment or a concern. A transformation results from the addition of ingredients. Characters change or they remain the same.

Set a scene. Two individuals meet for dinner. One has a problem. Add a secret shared or previously unknown disclosure. Create conflict between them.

Pursue the story from a variety of angles.

Add more action. Something else happens.

A third party rushes in.

Create additional commotion.

Pause. Let the reader breathe and wonder.

Start in again.

Unnerve your characters.

Let it play out.

Alter the conclusion for variety. Begin at the ending and write forward. Let the words fly.

Does a moral or practical advice result?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weed. Free the Verbs!

Words, like glass, obscure when they do not aid vision. 
~ Joseph Joubert

When I share my passion for verbs, students and friends defend the use of adjectives and adverbs. They question why I shove verbs at them.  I've heard arguments with a variety of opinions. In fact, one student claimed, "They're in the dictionary!"

To use an adjective - I'm obsessed with lazy writing. Clutter in words obscures the action. I love to read sentences that fly and escape into metaphor.

Show me a beautiful, sunny, warm day! What does it smell like? How does it feel like on the skin?  What colors abound?  Verb it to me in details.

Enrich writing muscles and search for words to express the details. Play with sentence re-arrangement. Exercise when you read.

Today, I picked up a novel that I won't name.  The first sentences had stacked modifiers for each noun. I pruned and tuned the sentences so they helped me ease into the story. 

I have not quoted complete sentences to protect the guilty.

Here we go:

 .  .  .  was woken by a dazzling sliver of sunlight piercing the curtains like a shining silver sword.

A sliver of sunlight pierced the curtains. It dazzled like a sword.

She lay languidly in lace and cashmere.   Is she a chicken?  People lie, hens lay. Let a verb replace languidly? Could she nestle in lace and cashmere?  Then she feels like a chicken. Capture two meanings with one verb.

She watched patterns that the light made flickering through the tender green leaves.  Why tender? Even green overstates the case. Describe the texture, shape or scent of the leaves.

Could the light flicker through leaves?  Dapple the leaves?

Breeze delicately swayed.  A breeze means delicate.  No adverb needed.  An adjective: tired sentence.

How about the indolent heat of summer.  This adjective adds something to the heat but calls attention to itself. A line or two will describe sensations of the heat.

The beech shed leaves in papery bronze drifts; one boisterously windy November.There was hot sun and boisterous sea breezes and a hard unfamiliar bed.

Turn these sentences inside out.

Show me the verbs!  Select. Prune. Weed. Set the verbs free. 

Let the hibiscus bloom in a sentence.

One more:

Thunder rolled like gunfire. The sky purple and swollen with portent, was suddenly split open by a fork of lightning . . . Avoid mixing metaphors.  Find images not used in the past.

Write Challenge:   Send me your adjectives and adverbs. I'll weed them and nourish nouns and verbs.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Write a Letter

When will the United States Postal Service will go the way of the Pony Express?  It suffers from financial problems and needs creative thinking to drive it to the next level. Now we have email, texting and Twitter to communicate. Companies like United Parcel Service deliver packages.

Will we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions without cards? Thank you notes will arrive in email, even via text messages. Messages will sing in colors online.

Even though individuals might not exchange letters of length and substance, the epistolary form can survive in literature. Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, C. S. Lewis, Wallace Stegner, Stephen King embedded letters in the text. David Mitchell used the style in Cloud Atlas.

The epistolary story consists of letters written from one character to another or moves between characters.  The convention of the story may also include that of a monologue spoken aloud by one character to another.

The variations include the narrator speaking in intimate confessional to a friend or lover.  Or, he may present his case to a jury or a mob.  The narrator could pour out his heart in a love letter that he knows
(and we know) he will never send.

This style involves the opposite of what's employed in a story told to the reader.  The listener as well as the teller becomes involved in the action.  Readers become eavesdroppers with all the ambiguous intimacy that position entails.

Creative write:  Write a sketch based on the epistolary form.  

Choose one or create your own.

 l.  The narrator is concerned about the choice he made to sell property that had been in the family for  years.

2.  Develop four letters among two friends attempting to settle an argument.  First letter details the problem. The second responds to it. The third attempts reconciliation. The last letter puts it to rest or leaves it unresolved.