Monday, April 24, 2017

Minding My Muse 08: Domains of Creativity

A year ago I responded to the writing prompts in Priscilla Long's Minding the Muse. That process helped me explore and re-enter my current memoir project as well as to diversify my creative activities. I share these unedited journal entries as inspiration for your own creative explorations.

“Have you put into place or could you begin a daily practice of observation – even if for five minutes – of writing or sketching what you perceive with your senses, whatever is directly in front of you?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 54)

I like this idea – observation, even if only five minutes – of what my senses perceive, then write or draw it. I don’t know how to draw but the attempt, even to think about an attempt causes me to see differently, see parts and angles and expressions and colors. I bought a new sketch pad and watercolor pencils yesterday at UW Bookstore. I have not yet opened the box or marked the first page. I lack to knowledge, the skill. I do not know how to make art.

But perhaps it’s about observation rather than art. No one need see my rudimentary attempts to see and sketch. I simply need to be brave enough to try.

“Do you tend to work in the same way all the time? Could you shake it up a bit, add a random element? What would a lateral move mean in terms of a piece you are working on right now?
(Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 54)

I have not been working much at all this summer. The memoir sits idle. So how would I re-enter and how would I move sideways to generate new ideas or lost memories? Color, art, music would help. Daily writing would definitely make a difference. If I get stuck, perhaps writing in other POVs – mom’s, Arturo’s, Maureen’s, Judi’s.

And then there’s the abecedarian that might generate ideas/memories, and the idea to copy Rivera’s paintings if only I could develop the skill. All these things could put my back in Mexico – place and time.

But was I even living consciously, or merely floating through, making the movements, saying the words, but somehow not fully present, not in the present, not creating real conscious memories when I lived in Mexico? I remember the French class, the ballet class. I was alone. My brain was active. So was my body. But I do not remember any of my teaching pedagogy classes, only French. So odd.

“What alternate domains (spheres of activity or knowledge) might you investigate in order to get novel ideas, structures, directions?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 54)

I remember ballet and French. I remember piano and drawing in Santa Cruz. Of the four only dance gave me a sense of confidence, that feeling that I could achieve. But I remember all and they gave me something, though I’d be hard pressed to identify what it was that causes me to remember. Clearly I need to try art again – with or without classes.

Other domains to again explore that will be elements of the memoir: letters and journal. Shall I write letters again? Save the lost art in some small way? To whom? My mother's sisters? The letters would be much appreciated, I’m sure.

And the diary or journal. Perhaps my morning pages, these pages of thoughts and exercises, these are journal pages. But I also need to write about my life, about the wedding, about being the mother of the now-married daughter, the sister of a woman fighting of cancer, on the edge, not knowing what to do, how to help.

So: art, letters, journal – revisited domains of creativity to explore

Prior posts in this series:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Memoir & Why I Do It

Are you in the Seattle area? Are you interested in memoir writing? Do you like good coffee (or maybe wine or beer)?

Please join me at C&P Coffee Company in West Seattle on Wednesday, April 26th. I'll be reading new work about memoir and why I write it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Minding My Muse 07: Sharing Scribbles

I don't often reread journal posts, but in sharing these responses to Priscilla Long’s Minding the Muse A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators I'm doing just that. And frankly, it's a little unnerving, both the reading eight-month-old notebook scribbles and sharing them.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 45
“Whose work are you looking it? Do you go outside your own genre to look and to learn? What are you reading? What new directions are igniting your imagination? What craft moves or new approaches are you dipping into? Have you done anything new lately?”

At the moment I am looking at nothing more than P. Long’s Minding the Muse and I’m reading Pam’s first draft of Marcella. New approaches, craft moves? I’m dipping into the idea of interlacing original journal entries and letters into the memoir text. I’m toying with time – Mexico 1980s, England 2010. I have no idea how this memoir (or true-life fiction) will end up coming together. So yes, I need to be reading memoirs from the greats, works that are novel and play with sources and time. What do I have in my bookcase and what can I find? Only three memoirs plus Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter which I’ve already read but will take another look.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 45
“Do you have a hobby or interest – perhaps playing a musical instrument or cooking or dancing -  that refreshes and feeds your creative work? Or do you in fact work in more than one genre?

I would call reading a hobby. And cycling. Reading shows me what others are creating – both weak and strong. Cycling clears my mind. I’d still like to dabble in sketching and color, but when and how? Alone with this small book on perspective is only annoying. Maybe I should just go out and look and watch and draw. Or maybe I should find a class – time and money – that can work into my schedule. But first and foremost, I need to write!

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 45
“How do you go about systematically deepening your craft skills? Could you do more? Is that a class you might take, whether in your own area of work or in a completely different area, that might stimulate and inform your own working process?”

I have done nothing for a long time to improve my skills, not since 2002-2003 UW Extension,  the one and only course I’ve ever taken. This is not because I think there’s nothing for me to learn, but rather sort of twofold.

First, I strongly believe that writing, like many things, is something one learns by doing. I have written a lot in the past fourteen years and in doing so, I have improved my skills. That’s not to say that a class would be a bad thing, only that I don’t want, haven’t wanted, to be distracted from my current project, whatever it was. I see too many writers who would benefit from more seat time and less class time, in my opinion. But I could just be making excuses.

Because second, I find it hard to select and pay for a class. Scheduling is a challenge, homework that would distract me or pull me out of the memoir would be annoying. And then there’s the money. And honestly, I’m not sure I want anyone telling me what to do. Yet, I admit there’s much I could learn and explore. I could, should take a class for fun, for play. In which case, I’d probably prefer a visual art class! So where? And when? And why haven’t I done it?

Prior posts in this series:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Minding My Muse 06: Doing vs. Feeling

Priscilla Long’s Minding the Muse A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators includes the  following writing prompts at the close of the fifth chapter titled Feelings are Unimportant. I’ll admit I was taken aback by that title given I’m one who lives by emotion. But as with all of the writing prompts found in this book, I found the exploration fascinating. Perhaps you’ll give it a try yourself.
Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 38
“Do you find your work process overly influenced by your feelings? Are there times your feelings sabotage your work? Does your energy for working rise and fall according to your cycle of hope and discouragement?

September 14, 2016
My feelings are affected by life around me and my struggles to stick to some kind of regular writing schedule. My feelings also come into play with memoir in two ways. First, it’s a struggle to remember honestly and clearly the events and emotions of thirty years ago. I struggle to remember and to pull this Mexico story together. And I wonder if anyone cares, if there will be an audience. So I remind myself that I write for me, perhaps for Erin, so she knows her mother better.

Feelings also come into play, especially when I write memoir, because of my concern for the feelings of that small audience – my siblings – who will very likely read my work. The re-release of The Thirty-Ninth Victim is bad enough in their eyes, but Moving Mom followed by The Ex-Mexican Wives Club? They will not be happy that I’ve returned (as they’ll see it) to memoir. They don’t and won’t understand that I wrote Moving Mom back when Mom was still alive between 2008 and 2013. That I wrote as a tool to process those very difficult years. So I let my feelings, my fears, blind me. I try to read and edit with my siblings in mind. I try to figure out what will upset them most and I try to soften my words. This is not how a memoir should be written. Or perhaps it is. I should write with honesty and clarity, but I need not be cruel. Soon I’ll begin the re-read/edit of Moving Mom. It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at it. I’ll see it with new eyes and try to imagine how they will see it. So yes, feelings come into play.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 38
“Do you have way too many unfinished works? In what ways could you develop more resilience, a more steady and unflappable approach to working on your art?

If anything, I do not have enough unfinished work. I am a finisher! I have The Ex-Mexican Wives Club that I am working on, and I have stories of Erin’s childhood that I may or may not choose to do anything with. That’s it. No other projects. According to P. Long I should probably have more, but I do not work in short forms. Well, not exactly true. I have a large collection of blog posts. I should/could review and rewrite them to create a collection: Observations on Life. Another collection: Muddling Memoir. Another (already collected into one solid piece that I think I submitted): Finding Home.

There are pieces to polish, pieces I could submit for magazine publication, but it has never interested me to do so. Maybe someday, but first I want to finish the long memoirs. After that, we’ll see.

March 31, 2017 Update
As I read that last unedited paragraph from six months ago, I ponder again about diversification and the importance of regular submissions. Teaching full time requires I prioritize my writing time. I allow feelings to shape my choices. My passion: book length work. Unlike others who devour essays and short stories, I always reach for a book. Books are what I prefer reading and what I enjoy writing. I can lose myself in books. So until retirement, I will continue in the same vein.

Prior posts in this series:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Minding My Muse 05: Does That Count?

I work my way through a writing notebook from six months ago containing responses to the writing prompts Priscilla Long calls “Questions to Contemplate as You Continue Your Practice.” These prompts close each chapter of Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators. I share my unedited responses as a tool for revisiting my writing process, a six-month checkup of sorts.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 33
“What artworks might you study outside the traditions of your own artform? If you are a visual artist, what could you do with the shape of a sonnet? If you are a poet, can you write a painting?...”

September 2016
I tried to teach myself perspective, tried to learn to sketch, but I got frustrated and gave up. I’d like to try again, take a class. Or maybe I should just play at it, try to imitate Rivera or Kahlo, use art to take me back to Mexico. A bouquet of Calla Lilies or a concrete block apartment building with coffee can tomato and chili plants on the roof top. Maybe I should try color. Maybe a class. When? Where? I will copy the Mexican artists to try to re-enter the world I left behind. I like that idea. With or without a class.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 33
“What traditional forms within your own domain might you return to, not to recreate old forms, but to explore the relevance of their moves to your new work (in painting, for instance, you might return to painting on a square canvas or to dripping paint or scraping it; in poetry you might try the pantoum or you might try working in couplets).”

September 2016
I will do a Mexico abecedarian, maybe two. One about Mexico, only descriptive. The other autobiographical. This/these would be fun, challenging and also serve to pull up memories.

I will also write an old fashioned letter once a month. I wrote a lot of letters when I lived in Mexico. Maybe beginning this tradition once again could reconnect me with the past. If nothing more, I might give surprise and pleasure to those I write to.

March 14, 2017 Update
I’ve done no drawing or painting, though I did buy one of those adult coloring books I play with now and again. Does that count? I’ve also written a few letters, though I haven’t met my monthly quota. Still, I found the inspiration to keep writing which was my goal when reading Minding the Muse. The writing prompts above are from the fourth chapter: Finding and Reinventing Forms. While I am not drawing or painting, nor am I doing abecedarians or monthly letter writing, memories of my lost Mexico years are surfacing in color and image, and I’m rereading old letters and journal entries from three decades past.

Prior posts in this series:

Friday, March 10, 2017

100 Miles for a Cure

Cancer has hit my family and friends hard in the past few years. It’s hit the families and friends of many I know. Has it hit yours as well? Do you share my feelings of helplessness and frustration in the face of this dreadful disease?

I decided to do something proactive. This summer I will cycle the 100-mile Obliteride. The goal of this Seattle bike ride is to raise funds for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Last year cyclists collected 2.4 million dollars in donations to support the search for a cure.

Here’s how it works. Each cyclist pays a $100 registration fee and agrees to a minimum $250 fundraising commitment to be reached by May 5. One hundred percent of that $250 goes directly to Fred Hutch cancer research. The cost of the ride itself – organization, support, jerseys – is covered entirely by the registration fee each cyclist pays.

I am grateful to those who have already donated to Fred Hutch and helped me get closer to my goal. But I’m not there yet, and frankly, with your help I’d like reach beyond that minimum goal of $250.

I know we all face choices in these uncertain times, but I’d sure appreciate your help. It’s quick and easy. Any amount helps! Just click HERE and give what you can to help obliterate cancer. Thank you!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Minding My Muse 04: Process or Product?

Author and teacher, Priscilla Long provides thought-provoking writing prompts in Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators. I used these prompts to pull myself out of a slump last September. I’m sharing my journal responses along with an invitation to write your own. 

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 25
“Do you find yourself thinking of results too early in the process? Does anxiety infect your work process? Do you spend time experimenting or do you find yourself in too much of a hurry?” Could you slow down? Could you fertilize your creative work by experimenting more?...”

September 13, 2016
I am always in a hurry. I rush. I want a finished book. My focus is on the finished product rather than the process. The book on my book shelf. I rarely think about slowing the process. Fellow writers comment on my speed. Two memoirs and three novels between 2002 when I first began writing and today. But three novels between 2008 when The Thirty-Ninth Victim was released and 2015 when Walking Home came out. Six years for three novels plus the unpublished memoir. Really it doesn’t seem so fast. Many writers put out a book a year. But they are experienced writers and many are producing commercial work, and many are full-time writers. And besides it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I feel rushed and that I do not explore and play with ideas. I don’t hone my craft because I am too focused on the story, whether fiction or memoir. I love story. I read and watch movies for story. I do not necessarily want experimental or new. Still, if I slowed down, I could dig deeper and write better.

Another factor is age. I began writing fourteen years ago at the age of forty eight. My first book was published when I was fifty four. I suppose I feel as though I’m running out of time. But what’s the rush? And who says I even have to write anything more? I do. I want to write better. I have three average to mediocre novels and two rather sensational memoirs. I’d like to learn to create something better. Literary? Not really. Unique? Perhaps. And to do that I should slow down.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 25
“Might you take an hour to work on a piece you have in progress, with the rule that this hour is to dibble-dabble, to play, to speculate, to chew, to cogitate? For this hour, no results will be desired and none will be permitted.”

September 13, 2016
I guess I know how to “dibble-dabble” as well as I know how to play. What does dibble-dabble entail and how do I think about Mexico, remember Mexico, without a memoir in mind? Without results. It seems to not be in my nature. I do not know how to do anything at all without a goal, without results. Even relax. Maybe read. But even that became a practice, the need to write a review in hopes that others would review my books. Such a silly game.
M –      misery, mystery, markets, mansions, menace, music, me, men, Mrs., miserable, museums, mole, marriage, Maureen
E –       extranjera, exciting, exhausting, exhaust, ex-pats, extremes,
            escape, empty, education
X –      Xochimilco, x-rated, x-rays
I –        ignorance, independent, interesting, international, intriguing,
            ill, Ixtapa
C –      concrete, creative, crafts, colors, chilis, carne, chickens, companeros/as, colegio, Coyoacan
O –      oil, old, oddities, Oaxaca, offices

I don’t think an Abecedarian would be considered dibble-dabbling, but just playing with MEXICO was fun.

How do you handle the process or product equation in your own creative endeavors? How do you experiment or dibble-dabble? Please share your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Prior posts in this series: