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:

Monday, February 27, 2017

Minding My Muse 03

This Minding My Muse blog series continues as I share my unrevised, unedited responses to author and teacher, Priscilla Long’s thought provoking prompts at the close of each chapter of Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 19
“Do you spend part of your work time consciously gathering, consciously dabbling and doodling, collecting, ruminating? Are there ways you could deepen your art practice and make it more pleasurable by putting into place a gathering phase, one that continues as composing begins? What sorts of materials might you gather and where might you keep those materials?

September 2016
Gathering (or research) is very much a part of my practice whether I’m doing memoir or fiction. I gather before and during a project. I gather historical facts, relics, music, food, photographs, letters, memories. I’m in that stage now with the Mexico memoir, pulling and gathering relics in hopes of also gathering lost memories and trying to make sense of that lost young woman on her own in Mexico. I listen to music and memories surface. Look at photos. Read letters. I shall give myself more time to sink deep into the memories. This needs to be alone work. Maybe Saturday mornings when Tom is working and I have the house alone. Or Fridays. Will Pam be able to shift to Friday morning writes? Will I/we go to Louisa’s on Fridays? Or Tuesdays?

So I gather, but perhaps I could be better at organizing and storing the results of my gathering. I have letters and photo albums downstairs, but I think I’ve pulled out everything relevant and this is in baskets in my office. The music is here in the dining room. So far it all seems to work. What doesn’t work are the time lapses. I need to re-enter and stay there on a daily basis. I have to BE in Mexico in the early 80s. If I can BE there, the manuscript will develop. But to do that, I need to clear my plate. Republish four books, publish a second memoir. Then onward.
Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 19
“If you are one of those creators who loves research, do you work on the actual composition—whether poem, painting, or film—at the same time that you continue doing research? Is the composing phase in sync with the gathering phase, or do you continue to do research for days or years without working on the work itself? Can you improve your practice in this regard?

September 2016
I do both at the same time. For the Mexico memoir I needed, and still need, to do more upfront gathering because the memories are so weak. The challenge is that I did so much gathering and composing early last spring and early summer, but because I got so distracted, I’ve lost the string of the story.

I need to begin again
But not yet
Let the dust settle
Let summer end
Let me begin again with a daily writing routine
Let me celebrate the re-release of four (improved) books
Let me prepare Moving Mom and submit it for publication
Let me reward myself for these five books when they are all in print
Let me sink deep into 1980s Mexico, the young woman I once was
Let me begin this re-entry during winter break
Let fall quarter be a time of daily composing
Of editing and submission
Of regular blog posts
Let me become again the writer I want to be
Without fear of the pain my words may cause
Let me not censure myself or my experiences or my words
Out of fear, love or respect
For those who have suffered and are suffering still
I will find the strength to tell my stories 
With honesty and patience and passion
Knowing I risk rejection
I have to accept that rejection and keep writing
Because when I do not write, I am only half me.

Prior posts in this series:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Minding My Muse 02

By the end of last summer I found myself in a serious writing slump. That’s when I found Priscilla Long’s wonderful new book titled Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators. I spent September reading and responding to the writing prompts at the end of each chapter. With Priscilla’s permission, I will post those prompts and my unedited responses over the next weeks.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 11
What is your work practice? Do you work every day? Do you place various unattainable conditions on when, where, or how you can work, resulting in a sporadic work habit? If so, how might this be improved?”

September 12, 2016
I am not working every day. I have done little actual new writing this summer, though I have completed a load of editing – four manuscripts represent a fair amount of work! It’s the morning pages and timed writing I’ve let slide, the creation of new work. In part because I want the old work re-published and in part because the new memoir is slow in coming.

I definitely place conditions on the where or when or how that I write. I feel I need to do morning pages in the morning! And when I don’t, I can’t seem to find another time to get that private writing into my routine. Maybe I could get fifteen minutes in bed instead of reading at night if I’ve skipped morning pages or thirty minutes in my campus office before leaving for home. But more importantly, I need to explore how to use the timed write/morning pages to re-enter the memoir and to create new work for the blog.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 11
What specific products do you aim to achieve during your next period of work (week, month, year)? What are the steps to achieving them? “

September 12, 2016
My next project is to read, edit, and submit Moving Mom. Possibly change the title. First I’ll read Marcella for Pam and share my thoughts. I’ll try to do that this week and next Moving Mom I’ll aim for Christmas, or by the end of winter break. To do that I need time at my computer reading. This is not morning pages time. This will be Fridays and Saturdays, and maybe scheduled afternoons.

At the same, I need to re-enter the Mexico memoir enough to establish startlines. These, as well as exercises from What if? These could be my startlines for Louisa’s (Fridays?) and Uptown practices.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 11
“Do you work on more than one piece at a time? Do you allow the pieces to interact with each other and influence each other?”

September 12, 2016
The only short pieces I do are for my blog. I tend not to submit short pieces, though I know Priscilla would insist I should. At the same time, I do let my blog and my long project (memoir or novel) as well as morning pages interact and influence each other so I suppose that’s on target. My biggest challenge is to re-enter the world of daily writing, daily focused writing. Once I do that, and once I feel my publishing schedule is as it should be, I should be able to re-enter The Ex-Mexican Wives Club as well as weekly or bi-weekly blog posts.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 11
“When you next complete a work, what will you do to reward yourself?” Which work will this be?”

Rewards? I’m not so good at rewarding myself. I suppose I see the book itself as the reward, or the number of views to a blog post. I see writing as a hobby rather than a job; completion makes me happy. It’s its own reward.

But then people comment on my productivity, speed, publications. Maybe I do need, or needed a break. A reward. Maybe that’s why I haven’t succeeded yet to dig deep into the Mexico years and find the story, the memories there that are needed for this third memoir. Maybe I needed this summer of distraction – Erin’s wedding, a houseful of friends and family, Booktrope going under, taking the time to re-edit before re-releasing with Bookadelphia. It’s been a long summer break from creation, and soon I need to return.

February 20, 2017 Update
I am slowing re-entering the world of Mexico 1979-1985. I continue to gather memories, and I’ve made contact with an old friend I once knew there, a friend with whom I share memories. But I question how far I should go with this searching for details through another’s memories. John Irving addresses this quandary in his memoir, The Imaginary Girlfriend:

“Of course I could phone Andre Dubus and ask him if it was his chest or Crumley’s that was splattered with Boston cream pie; I could call David Plimpton and ask him if he threw the pie, and whose chest he hit. But I believe the gaps and even the errors of my memory are truthfulness of another kind: what we fiction writers forget, or what we get wrong, is part of what a “memoir” means to us.”

Prior posts in this series: