Dark Reality and My Writing Journey

The young girl lay in her bed under a dusty rose comforter with delicate white flowers. Stuffed animals graced the sides of her bed, while extra blankets folded over her feet made her feel safe and  secure whenever she fell asleep. The early morning sun began to sneak in through the window over her bed, despite the curtains pulled across to block out the light. 

The girl clutched her covers around her. She had been awake for  a while now, before the golden light seeped into the room. Despite the beauty of the morning, she didn’t want to turn her head toward the empty bed across the room–deserted by her older sister when she left for college a few weeks before. She wasn’t afraid of the empty bed, but of what she had seen on and  around that bed upon waking up. 

I can’t look. What if they’re still there? She knew she had to look. It must have been a dream. I imagined it.

She turned her head.

It wasn’t a dream. She saw the bodies piled on her sister’s bed–emaciated bodies with dark circles underneath dead eyes and bald heads. Next to them was an even bigger pile of skulls and other bones  in a jumble. 

She wanted to scream but couldn’t find the breath.

She stared in shock for several long minutes, rubbing her eyes and blinking in the hopes that the nightmare would end. She couldn’t find her voice to call out for help.  After what felt like a long fifteen minutes the image shifted. The piles turned into the reality of her bedroom. The bodies turned into pillows and clothes she had put on her sister’s bed. The bones turned into knickknacks and collectibles on her sister’s bedside table.

She was back into reality, but she knew it wasn’t a dream.Dusty rose bedspread

***

A few days ago I mentioned how the mini-series The Holocaust helped me recognize the power of words. In a comment on that post the fabulous Kathy mentioned how the Holocaust influenced her desire to become a writer. Kathy’s words and images on Lake Superior Spirit never fail to inspire me and give me moments of peace, so we are all blessed by the fact that she found inspiration in the horror.

As did I, but I’ve also found challenges because of it. For you see, that little girl under the rose-pink bedspread was me. That vision or hallucination or glimpse at memory was mine, and I was wide awake.

The miniseries sparked a sort of fascination within me, where I wanted to learn more and understand more about how such horror could happen, how mankind could be so cruel based on things so invisible and meaningless–differences in culture, in belief, in race. I became a voracious reader of Holocaust literature, starting with The Diary of Anne Frank and moving up to more mature and adult fare. (I was a very advanced reader). I talked with Mrs. Sekler, my Hebrew School teacher and the  only person I knew who had the blue numbers etched into her arm.

Until the day I saw the bodies and the bones.

I told my parents what happened,  and they said I had to stop reading Holocaust literature. They said it was probably a dream, fueled by the books. So I stopped until I was an adult and could handle it again.

What does this have to do with my writing journey?

I know my biggest flaw as a writer, if I want to make it as a successful author of fiction, especially YA/NA, I need to be willing to write darker material. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of eerie or creepy pieces, and my characters often have a dark side. They aren’t always flitting with fairies and riding on rainbows. However, I could never have written The Hunger Games because I can’t get myself to write about young people killing young people. I can’t write the descriptive and violent darkness found  in so many successful books these days.

I’m blocked when it comes to that stuff.

Yet, in a world where this cruelty exists every day, in blatant and subtle forms, I have to confront my own inability. I live in a country where a loud and powerful minority want to maintain their flimsy and mostly imagined supremacy by limiting the rights of others to things like healthcare, marriage, control of their own bodies, and the right to worship as they please. How is that different from the desire  to have a “Master Race”? I live in a world of rape-culture where the victims get blamed and the rapists get glorified. I live in a world where people are murdered by guns, while others cling to their rights to have weapons built only for the purpose of killing lots of people as quickly as possible. I live in a world where women are tortured and brutalized every day for reasons as meaningless as the desire to become educated. I live in a world where people are still judged by the color of their skin, the way they worship, the language they speak, or the way they dress.

I live in a cruel world.

If I want to become  the writer I dream to be, I need learn how to write about that world, in the  voice of that world. I need to embrace the possibility of seeing the darkness, the violence,  the pain with my own waking eyes, and then combating it with the power of my words.

This is my challenge to myself. This is my writing journey.

Celebrating Fears Faced

When I was in high school, I was accepted as a Rotary exchange student and was invited to go to Belgium for the year. I let the fears of others rule my decision and I stayed home.

That is one of my biggest regrets in life.

As I matured, I began to realize that letting fear stop you from taking chances means giving up on a lot of dreams and on living. I tried, when faced with fear, to push through it and face the fears. I wasn’t always successful, but I grew stronger and more courageous with each attempt, or so I thought.

Yet, something shifted again after I became a mother. Suddenly fear has control over me again, and more often than not I give into those fears. Fear of trying to publish. Fear of making friends. Fear of taking chances. I think this new hold FEAR has on me has something to do with the fact that my life is not my own–my decisions affect Nathan and Sarah. I can’t just pick up, take off, and take chances.

Yet, as I approach this birthday (Eek! The actual day is tomorrow) I find myself yearning to become the person who does not let fear stop her anymore. After I graduated from college and was on the job hung (following a one year internship at a theatre) I had two interesting options on the table:

  1. The more practical option of working for a Canada based Arts Administration Organization that sent people throughout North America to help arts organizations with reorganization and planning. This would have probably led to a solid career in Arts Administration and or Arts Advocacy (one thing I would still love to do ) and–more often than not in recent years ;)–I’ve thought being Canadian wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
  2. A job teaching at an English conversation school in Okayama, Japan.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time (or even just the first of the celebratory posts), you know where I ended up.

In Japan in my early 20s.

Yet, the decision to go to Japan was not an easy one. It was a fear-filled one. It took some words of wisdom from one of the actors at the theatre company I was working out to help me make a choice. He said,

“There are no wrong decisions. There are choices that can go badly, but they always lead to the next decision.”

I tried to make those the guiding words of my life. This doesn’t mean we never make mistakes, but if we face those mistakes head on–despite our fears–we will make it through to new opportunities, new decisions, and new moments to face our fears.

So today I celebrate the moments in my life when I faced my fears and moved through them. Among those moments, I celebrate the day I got on a plane, headed for a country I’d never been to a job I never thought of, and cried my way from Boston to California before sitting in sleepless fear from California to Japan.

I hope someday to be that courageous again.

I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.

DSCN1859

However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.

DSCN1848

I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kramer

So You’ve Written a Manuscript . . . Now What?

Manuscript babyDespite my lack of words when it comes to blogging and/or new work over the past couple of months, I have slowly but steadily been working on editing the manuscript of my YA/NA novel that I finished a full draft of last December. Along with that draft I had written a sample Agent Query , a sample Submission Cover Page, and a summary. I sent that (along with a revised chapter) to my Instructor for the course I was taking, all before my father passed.

To tell you the truth, the day after my father passed away, I completed a major edit of  the full document because I needed to focus on something other than my sadness. That may seem weird but it was what I needed to do.

As I waited for a response from my instructor, I sent the draft to some readers, and then did another revision based on their feedback. I finished that completely last week (or maybe two weeks ago, I don’t remember). The response from my instructor came about a month ago, followed quickly with my “diploma” for having completed the course. His comments and suggestions made me feel like I had a solid submission packet ready to go, with a few minor corrections/changes.

Still, it took me a long time to face the process. I kept finding excuses, such as I was waiting for updates on publishers or didn’t have time to find agents, or my office was too much of a mess to work in, or I forgot to bring the notes I needed to make the edits, no matter how minor, or . . .

The real problem, beyond my personal struggle and sadness, is my fear of rejection. If I send it out there and get nothing but rejection, will I ever have the courage to publish it anyway? Or will it lie gathering dust in my pile of discarded dreams, along with the manuscript of Giving Up the Ghosts that I gave up on long ago?

Here’s the reality that we all must face as writers. There are, of course, those of us who write purely for the pleasure of putting words on the page, with no intention of sharing those words. (I have journals and journals of those kinds of writing). However, if you have even the tiniest desire to have someone else read what you write, then  you must do something to put it out there, to have people read it. It does no good sitting in your computer or printed out in a pile of manuscript pages where it does nothing but gather dust.

An unread piece of fiction is nothing more than words without a home.

So what do we do with these manuscript babies?  In our world we now have several options:

  • Find an agent (which means being prepared for many rejections or simply non-responses)
  • Try to submit to traditional publishers on our own (which is hard as so many publishers want agented submissions only, and it also means being prepared for many rejections)
  • Self-publish

I’m not against the self-publishing option, and may end up going that route. However, over the past year or so I’ve read a lot of self-published books. Some of them have been excellent. Many of them could have been excellent if they had a once over from an editor or an outside-eye. It’s difficult to edit our own work, especially for beginning authors. Add to that the pressures of doing layout, creating covers, and promoting our own works and sometimes the work seems to suffer.

I don’t want that to happen to my work.

So, I’ve decided to try the traditional route first. I’m looking for agents. I may submit the full manuscript to one or two publishing houses that accept unagented works. While I wait, I intend to look into formatting the manuscript for a professional looking self-publishing approach and decide on the best platform if that ends up being my path.

All of this, of course, requires a plan and action on my part. Something which I find challenging at the moment, except in brief bursts of focused energy. Yesterday I finally got over my excuses, brought the notes, fixed the edits and prepared the material to submit to the one agent I had already selected. Now I need to buy some ink, and send it off. Once I had done all that, I began to search for other possible agents. I found a couple who looked interesting, who only accepted submissions on-line. The ink excuse no longer worked. So, I cut and paste and submitted. (I also had to write a one page summary which has now been added to the materials I am ready to submit.)

Today I signed up for a writer’s conference this May (I wasn’t really procrastinating on this one, there was a big mess-up with my pay this month so I had to wait until I had some money). I plan on submitting the first chapters for a feedback session at the conference.

Excuses are no longer acceptable.  The book is written, now it needs a home.

True Confessions of a Fearful Artist

Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

I sit in a coffee shop feeling my heart beat as I try to find a sense of calm. In a little over an hour I will be at an interview for a directing job. Just a small college show, but my fears overwhelm me and I feel panic building.

What am I afraid of?

Once upon a time I believed I would be a famous director.  I thought I had the talent and vision to create powerful and meaningful theatrical experiences for even novice theatre-goers. Or, at least that’s what I tricked myself into thinking.

The truth is that my doubts ate away at me. That little inner critic took control and won. I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dream fully and I let the nay-sayers and the cruel manipulators who wanted to keep themselves on top push me down. I lost faith in my ability. I lost faith in my talent and knowledge. I lost faith in myself.

I still got directing jobs, though.  Usually through somebody else’s recommendation. Actually, that’s how I get most of my jobs of any type, through a connection or a recommendation–rarely through an actual interview?

What does that say about me?

Since moving back to Massachusetts, I’ve seen plenty of directing jobs, although most of them were near Boston. I used the hour drive (without traffic) as an excuse not to apply. You know . . . rehearsals would start around 6 or so which means I would have to leave by 4:30 at the latest to be sure I’d get there and wouldn’t have any time to see Sarah, etc. etc. etc.

But really what held me back from applying was fear.

Then this job came up, and the excuse didn’t stand. This University is 15 minutes from my house, without traffic. The play is quirky and interesting, written by a woman and with strong female characters. It relies heavily on movement, music, and, I believe light. In other words, all the things I love.

No excuses. I had to apply. I didn’t even let myself stop and think. I sent in my resume as soon as I saw the ad, even before I’d read the play. If I had procrastinated, the inner critic would have found another excuse for me to run away and hide in fear.

Which brings me to this moment of nervous tension building.

But here’s the interesting thing, since I started writing this post, suddenly my fears are beginning to calm. It’s as if words are my meditation. By allowing myself to blog, to share my words in a public sphere, I have slowly learned to be brave about all my artistic endeavors. The inner critic doesn’t have as much control anymore.

I can, and will, go into this interview knowing that they want me to succeed. They want to find the director who will be the best match for this project.  I believe that could be me, but if for some reason they disagree that isn’t a reflection of myself or my talent.

Sometimes what it really comes down to is personalities.

I no longer have the dream of becoming a famous director. I have other dreams trying to make themselves knows–writing and publishing novels; developing theatre for social change projects; becoming a successful arts advocate in some way; and other dreams that I have yet to put into words. Directing is a part of my life that I’m not willing to give up completely, but it is not the guiding light to my creative soul. Still, I think I need to confront this fear in order to continue to grow into the person I want to be.

Wish me luck.

What are you afraid of as an artist? What do you do to confront those fears?

 

 

 

 

Writing, Writing, and More Writing

November 1st.

Intrepid dreamers all around the world begin their journeys into NaNoWriMo–the attempt to write a 50,000 page novel by November 30th.

I’m not one of them. I wrote last year about why I don’t think National Novel Writing Month is for me. I still don’t think it would work for me, however I am determined to finish my current novel project by the end of November. Over the past week I’ve written over 10,000 words in what will be a novel running somewhere between 60 and 80,000 words. I know, that’s a big difference, but I won’t know until I get to the end that I have reached the end. The story is creating itself. As of now I am over 30,000 words in. (The official count is on my personal computer. I’m writing during my office hours since nobody has come to see me).

While I work well under the pressure of a deadline, I don’t work well under the pressure of pressure. Words, or any creative act, seem to have a cycle with me. They flow like a tidal wave, then turn into a drought, only to return again with the speed of Sandy. As frustrating as those periods of drought can be, I know that I need the fallow time to replenish and let ideas rest for a while until they are ready to burst forth.

Once I break through and the deluge of words begins, it seems to feed on itself. (I know, I’m using a lot of mixed metaphors right now. I struggled with insomnia last night and so my words insist on following their own random path. This too is a symptom of the flood). Since the words started flowing on my novel I’ve written more blog posts than I have for a long time. I’ve also applied for jobs, answered e-mails, graded papers and made comments–words pouring out of my system.

By putting words out there, the universe is answering. Yesterday I was asked to contribute a feature article for the spring edition of a popular magazine about Theatre for Young Audiences. Although the deadline for me to accomplish this task is short (I think they asked me late) I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve been asked to “talk about sex”; as in look at how romance and sex is discussed or portrayed in theatre for young audiences. Sexy topic, don’t you think?

[Any TYA folks who might read this, if you have something to say or know of someone who would be a good resource please let me know.]

In addition to that, we’ve finally gotten some funding to do a project promoting literacy to Latino elementary school students using drama, so I need to write up some planning material for that.

The whole point is that I’ve finally found my rhythm when it comes to writing and/or other creative projects. I can’t force it. I can’t create imaginary deadlines like NaNoWriMo. I have to follow my natural (although perhaps slightly psychotic) rhythms of manic production followed by passive reflection. If I fight it, I struggle.

At the moment, I’m not fighting. I’m simply writing, writing, and writing.

What works best for you?

Good luck to all you NaNoWriMo participants. I’ll see you on the other side!

Artists vs. Zombies

This is a repost of a post I originally wrote on June 23, 2011 for Sandra’s “Old-Post Resurrection Hop” at A Writer Weave’s A Tale. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of the arts, and the power of the arts to challenge ideas, I thought I would revisit this post. Enjoy!

“Feed me brains!”

Zombie Sam from terror4fun.com

The Zombie Leader lumbers towards an unsuspecting group of people who blithely go about their business reading, writing and creating. The Zombie Leaders intent to devour their energy and independent wills does not seem to faze them, until he makes his way to each one devouring brains and creating more zombies.

The Zombie leader does not discriminate when it comes to brains, but he especially enjoys feasting on young minds because of their potential to absorb energy and ideas at an overwhelming rate. Catch them young, he thinks, and they will never learn, grow, or threaten my Zombie Kingdom. Of course, he doesn’t really think this with as much insight as that. Really, his thought process is limited to “Brains!” but inside he knows that destroying a thinking, creative populace is what has made him strong and will make him more powerful.

Caught by this creature’s never-ending lust for domination and power, the young people turn into zombies quickly because they have yet to learn how to defend themselves from his overwhelming control.  As his army of brainless drudges grows, the Zombie King gains power over event those who have the skills to protect themselves and others from him. Why? Because these creative people often get so absorbed in their individual projects that they don’t sense his putrid, decaying presence until it is too late.

The more creative energy one zombie can devour, the higher in the ranks of the zombie world he/she rises. And with that strength comes more power and control over the ever-growing army of mindless drones and crucial elements of society which would help the diminishing group of rebels continue to fight the good fight.

But here’s the secret that they don’t understand (if they understood anything, which is a challenge when your brains are in someone else’s stomach):

Zombies cannot exist without artists!

Yes folks. Artists created zombies . We drew them, designed them, wrote stories about them. And while we focused on creating them, they grew stronger and more powerful. They grew to resent us, and their thoughts began to focus on our destruction. They exist because we gave them life,which suggests that we have the power to destroy them.

But I don’t think destruction is the answer. No! As artists our power comes from creation, not destruction. So, if we want to defeat the zombies and protect the creative minds of young and old alike, we must use of the power of our art itself. We must wield our pens, brandish our paint brushes, strengthen our words, mix our colors, build our connections, sing our songs, pronounce our monologues, grow or gardens, dance our dances, create our puppets, share our knowledge, and dream our dreams.

The zombies will try every trick they can–including destroying the foundations of equality and justice. They will attempt to suck the brains out of anyone, especially a leader, who leans towards valuing something other than power and money.

But in the end they will lose because artists never die–we live behind our words, our pictures, our songs, our sculptures, our ideas, and the power of our dreams. We are even capable of turning zombies back into fully functioning humans, or, at the very least rainbows. All it takes is a sprinkle of fairy dust and a lot of hard work.

Artists can rule the world!

This is a Blog Hop! Join in!

Joyful, Joyful! Living a Life Full of Moments

I admit I love watching flash mobs. Some of them are lame, but sometimes they touch something in me that makes me want to run out and sing and dance to express the pure joy of existence.  It’s the combination of music and/or dance, with the look of surprise on the faces of the observers that makes me think “That’s what it’s all about!”

I love being surprised by art and beauty when I least expect it. There is something about those expressions that take me out of myself for one brief moment, and recognize the magic that exists all around us.

Art found in Seattle.

There is nothing better than walking through a crafty little store and finding a little drawing with a quote or a snippet of poetry that speaks to your heart. If I could buy ever whimsical craft that calls to me, my house would an eclectic mix of inspiration and kitsch, but everyone walking in would find something to look at which makes them smile.

 Music, song, poetry, dance, art, laughter, words, friendship . . . these are the things that fill life with the moments worth living.

It’s too easy at time, to lose those moments, and get swallowed up by the cares and worries that obscure the spontaneity and the beauty But when that happens, its even more crucial to take time to:

Dance in the waves.

Eat ice cream in the sun.

Or simply sit and relax with someone you love.

I need to remind myself of this more often, and focus on the wonderful moments that make life worthwhile. Either that or I need to start having spontaneous flash mobs or turn my life into a musical by singing and dancing through the day.

Diving Into the Pool of Inspiration

“Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn’t ask for anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly. ”
― Cornelia FunkeInkheart

I have spent a lot of time these past few weeks hiding inside books. I turned to favorite friends, re-entering stories I’ve read before, because I find comfort in them despite the dangers, the fears, the darkness, the sadness. The characters are my friends, and their journey of learning and growing becomes my own.

But I haven’t just been hiding, I have also been seeking. I’ve been looking for what makes great stories tick. What makes prose sing? Where do fresh metaphors come from? How does one write, or create, or paint, or anything in a way that transcends what has been done before?

After all  ” every story has already been told” (Anna Quindlan). It seems like every painting has already been painted, every song has already been written, every creative act has already been done.

But, if that’s true, I ask myself, why do so many of us continue to write? To paint? To plot? To sing? To do any kind of creative act? If it’s all been done before, what’s the use?

As I lost myself in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy (a series I’ve only read once before) I began to recognize the answer.

“Stories never really end…even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don’t end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page.”
― Cornelia FunkeInkspell

If it is true that stories never really end, and every story has multiple characters, then there are multiple ways to tell a story. I’ve asked a question before (oddly enough prompted by reading another YA fantasy series) “where do stories come from?”. This question takes on more meaning in Funke’s series, when the author of the imaginary Inkspell gets read into his own book, into the world he supposedly created. The world he created has grown and changed and become a world he could not imagine, and he begins to wonder if someone else was writing the story.

Who is the author of the stories? Where does creativity come from?

We all know that practice makes us better at whatever art form we aspire to. We all know that if you want to be a writer then you have to practice the craft, just as an actor needs to train, and a singer needs to rehearse, and an artist needs to get dirty.

I think we also all know that hard work and practice isn’t enough. To truly become a great artist or a great writer, we need to have access to that mystical, spiritual, perhaps imaginary place of inspiration and imagination. We need to dive into the pool of shimmering fairy dust and submerge our bodies into the energy and power that comes when people create. I’ve felt it before, walking into a theatre on opening night, or into a classroom of young people  inspired by a creative project. The energy when creative people get together to create is palpable.  I imagine that on a level beyond our sight, the air fills with bright waves of color as ideas bounce around the room. These colors pour themselves into the creative pool, feeding it more energy so that it can grow and thrive. It is a powerful, beautiful, incredible place.

The struggle, of course, is how to gain access. It is available to all, but not everyone learns how to dive in, how to immerse themselves, how to succumb to the creative energy surrounding them and let that energy guide them. Some days, I am able to write or create from that place, but more often than not I get in my own way. I think too much, or let my doubts overcome possibility. When I do that, access to the pool closes and I find myself sitting cold and lonely in the dark, crying tears of loss and emptiness. Too often that feeling comes when I focus on things outside the creation itself. Questions like, “will I ever get published?” or “what will people think if I write this?” or “how can I make money doing this?” or “does doing this make the world a better place”  or any number of things outside the process interfere with the act of creation, and I lose access to the creative pool for long periods of time.

I am empty without it.

So, my goal is not to focus on the practicality of the product, but on the journey of creation. I am tired of not moving forward because of my perception of what I “should” be doing. I am tired of clinging to money or title as evidence that somehow I have am successful or reached a point of achievement. I now want to simply bathe in the pool of inspiration as often as I can, and let it’s energy feed me as I go on a wonderful journey into my version of the story.

I want to fight the battles in this world one creation at a time.

I still have a story to tell.


Potential and Magic, In the Beginning

“It was as black in the closet as blood.” (Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)

“I think I love signs of spring more than I love spring itself,” I said to Nathan after I made him play hooky with me for a couple of hours to wander through the botanical gardens. After all, it was my birthday and I didn’t want to be alone.  I love the potential of what is yet to come, the peeks of beauty being reborn out of the browns and grays of winter.

By now you might be wondering, “what do flowers and signs of spring have to do with the Alan Bradley quote?” or not–you could simply be throwing your hands up in disgust and surfing to another blog. But, if you bear with me, I will explain.

Yesterday, as I wandered through a landscape that is just beginning to show signs of life, I found myself in awe of the potential . . . of the beauty yet to come.

In the beginning lies my imagination of the wonders to follow.

The early days of spring hint at colors as yet unseen. Planning for a trip is sometimes more exciting than the trip itself.

The first line to any story, sets the tone for possibilities.

(See, I told you I’d get there.)

Last night I started reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a book that has been on my list for a while. I’m finally catching up on some of my list, after I decided that it was acceptable to spend some birthday money on myself, including buying a pile of books.  I read the first line, quoted above, and thought, “Wow, that’s an amazing first line.” I even read it allowed to Nathan.

His reaction was, “Ew!” followed by, “That is a good first line.”

I haven’t gotten far enough in to way much about the book yet, but so far I am enjoying it. I’m glad about that, because so often fabulous first lines, glorious beginnings, and the potential I imagine when something new starts result in disappointment.

For example, I just finished reading Anne Rice’s Of Love and Evil which began with an intriguing first line, “I dreamed a dream of angels.” I remember being so enamored by Interview with a Vampire. The richness of the language, the danger of the characters, the tension of good vs. evil, the seduction of possibility. However, this time I was disappointed. Perhaps it was coming into the second book of a series, without reading the first, but I found the potential of the first line simply disappeared.

Potential and magic lies in the beginning of everything. The secret, I believe, is making that potential grow to true magnificence. I am beginning to recognize that I am my own worst enemy because I am afraid of losing the potential of my beginnings.

I have a lot of wonderful first lines, but if I never complete them they only live in the world of potential.

I plan to make weekly visits to the botanical gardens this spring, so that I can watch the possibilities become realities. I hope, that as I see that potential does not have to lead to disappointment, I can fully discover my own possibilities.

 

I hope my first can blossom into a rich reality.

The magic lies in fulfilling all the potential possibilities.

This image comes from http://www.boston.com. I haven't seen the gardens in their full glory yet (didn't discover them until Christmas). But I wanted a shot of the potential fulfilled.

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