Visit Me at Tori’s “Tiny Spark Series”

You all know her from her courageous decision to hold a Very Bloggy Wedding where she entrusted bloggers world-wide to help her plan her own wedding. From the pictures, the end result was fabulous.

I know her as Tori, an amazon goddess of a woman with a joyous smile, a wonderful son, and an ability with words that continues to amaze. She’s also one of the bloggers I have met and so I feel privileged to be able to count her among my friends.

Last month, she announced that she would be doing the “Tiny Spark Series” which she described in this way:

“Starting in December we’ll hear from several amazing folks about the effects of unexpected good.

During those moments in life so blacked-out and dark we can’t see a hand right in front of us, what happened/ when/ how did you know there was must be a candle and a match out there somewhere?What flipped the switch and lit your life up to full blaze?”

To my honor and surprise, she asked me to contribute to the series, and my contribution, called “Looking for the End of the Rainbow One Day at a Time” appears today. Please go visit my post, and then treat yourself with  a wander through the wit and wisdom of Tori’s writing. She has the power to make you laugh until you pee in your pants while doing a spit take; but she also can make you cry at the beauty and power and sometimes terror of motherhood. Every time she writes, she confronts the assumptions of what it takes to be a living, breathing, loving, caring, happy person in a world gone mad.

I have found so many people who serve as “tiny sparks” through the words of their blog, as well as through the opportunities that come along each day. Sometimes it’s harder to see the spark, or take the steps needed to build that spark into a fire. I may not know what the future brings, but I know that my life will continue to be filled with moments and people who know how to make those sparks grow.

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Planting Seeds of Inspiration: ‘I done good!’

I’m often filled with self doubt.

I can hear those of you who have been reading me for a while now saying things like “Duh!” or “No, really!” or (the more vulgar) “No s*%t Sherlock!”

At least I acknowledge that I’m my own worst critic.

This negativity about myself isn’t just centered on my writing. There are times that I question every single thing I’m doing, whether it’s teaching, writing, parenting, directing, interviewing . . . Basically if its a verb I do, I criticize myself for not doing it well enough–for somehow screwing even the simplest things up.

But then there are days like today, when I realize that “I done good.”

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called Studies in Drama at Bryant University; a University that is mostly known as a business school, but has been expanding its liberal arts offerings. This is a 300 level course taught through the Literary and Cultural Studies Department that fulfills an LCS requirement that all students need to graduate.

Did you pick up on the key words there? Business students, 300 level, requirement.

Anyone who has ever taught an introductory level REQUIRED course in arts or writing will recognize that sometimes getting students involved is like beating your head against a brick wall. They come in with the attitude that “this has nothing to do with my life” or “why do I need to learn to write when I’m a _______ major?” Usually those courses are at the 100 level and filled with First Year Students who are struggling with the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a college student. I’ve had both successes and failures in those types of classes, but of course I always obsess about the failures and gloss over the successes.

Now, this particular course is kind of Intro to Theatre meets upper-division expectations.  My entire class is made of up seniors, some of whom will be graduating in December; all of whom are focused (quite naturally) on getting jobs after graduating.  In other words, students who put off this particular requirement for their Senior year. Students who, in some instances, had ZERO interest in theatre and ZERO contact with theatre; they just needed to fulfill their LCS requirement in some way. Several of them signed up for this course because the original instructor (whom I replaced because of a sudden medical leave) was known for his quirky teaching style and the fact that he NEVER MADE SENIORS TAKE A FINAL.

Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on “theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.” (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?

From there, we’ve traveled great distances in the class: from learning about the theatrical techniques of Bertolt Brecht, to discussing racism in Othello. We spent time with the Federal Theatre Project and discusses how a bunch of beavers led to the downfall of a federally supported theatre.  We’ve looked at the role of theatre in confronting feminist issues in plays like Trifles, A Doll House,  and even Lysistrata.  We discussed the role of race and gender in plays like Cloud 9 and for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf. I’ve introduced them to the techniques of Augusto Boal and today we looked at radical street theatre and the ways in which theatre can affect social change in public places.

Revolt of the Beavers

All in all, although there have been a few unenthusiastic and non-participatory students, the discussions have been excellent throughout the semester and the students have challenged me and each other with difficult questions.

Of course, there was still the issue of the final project. Since it was an LCS class I kind of felt the need (at first) to go with the traditional write a paper route. Then, after reading an article with the class about finding ways to incorporate the reality that this generation of students has grown up with technology into theatre classrooms, I opened up the possibility of some of my students finding alternative ways to present their projects beyond the traditional academic paper.

This lead to a surprising result today. As I mentioned earlier, in today’s class we talked about street theater using articles from Jan Cohen-Cruz’ anthology Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology. We talked about various forms of street theatre they have seen themselves, and I included in the discussion flash mobs which, although perhaps not as political as some other forms, have become (in my opinion) an important phenomenon in modern society. We looked at videos of  groups like Improv Everywhere who have mastered the art of producing moments of theatre in public places.  This is one of my favorite videos of theirs:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice calls out, “Can we negotiate the final papers if we create a flash mob?”

“Um . . . let me think about that.”

The class continued until we neared the end.

“How about the flash mob idea?”

“Well. . .,” I said, not wanting to dull their enthusiasm. After all, this was a group of students who want to, suddenly, do a CREATIVE project as their final. These are the same students who refused to acknowledge themselves as creative individuals in the beginning of the class. Granted, many of them are simply trying to avoid having to write an academic paper. Still, to me this indicates that they’ve been learning that theatre does, indeed, have power.

At the same time, I don’t want their final project to be a mediocre piece of fluff. “If you want to do this, then it needs to have some meaning. It can’t be just a fun flash mob. You need to make some kind of statement. If you can, as a group, come up with a reasonable proposal by next Tuesday, we’ll see.”

“Everybody, stay for five minutes,” another student said. “Let’s brainstorm.”

I left the class in discussion and headed toward my basement office cubby.

Ten minutes later, two students walked in. “We figured it out.”

They explained their idea. (I’ll leave the details for the future).  I negotiated a little to raise the expectations (there needs to be a research component and a little writing by everyone in the group). I told them I would still make the final decision next Tuesday, pending their figuring out some of those research details and a few other logistical things.

Meanwhile, all I could think was, “Wow! I think they really learned something. ‘I done good!'”

Stay tuned for the end results.

Celebrating Autumn, Celebrating Change

I woke this morning and tried to snuggle down into the warmth of my covers, but words formed in my head that demanded attention. A scene for my book  that I didn’t want to lose.

I jumped out of bed and grabbed my laptop. The cover held the chill of the morning air, on this–the last day of summer.

I began to write.

The bustle of the morning surrounded me. Nathan returned from walking the dogs. Sarah got up and began her normal morning routine which consists of babbling every thought that comes into her head while juggling the tasks required to get her to school including food, clothes, tooth brushing and (because she forgot to do it yesterday) bag packing.

I paused just long enough to make sure everyone stayed on task.

The school bus pulled away with my child safely aboard, and Nathan said, “Breakfast?”

“Sure,” I said. But that was as far as I got. My ideas flew across the keyboard. I couldn’t be bothered to stop to make a choice about food.

I eventually decided on yogurt mixed with Grapenuts and my usual chai.

Nathan made me stop long enough to say goodbye.

Several hours and about 4300 words later (a full chapter, a chapter revision for my instructor, and the beginning of another chapter) I came up for air and said, “What happened to the morning?”

Since I had an errand to run before Sarah’s return from school, I pulled myself away and headed out the door. I decided to treat myself, and exercise my body, with a visit to my favorite Botanical Gardens which you have met at other points on this blog, from other seasons. While I missed the high summer beauty of this place, since I was out-of-state for most of the summer, I haven’t  been disappointed by the change occurring as the fading blossoms of summer meet the growing glory of autumn. I forgot my camera on my first visit there last week, but remedied that today.

As I drove toward the gardens, I suddenly realized how lucky I am in this ever-changing life I lead. I still can feel overwhelmed by some of the questions and concerns that pop into my head, such as:

  • How do I deal with the fact that I never know quite how much money I will make from one season to the next, because there are no guarantees?
  • My disappointment that one of the projects I was most excited about, a program to promote literacy through drama, might not happen because of cutbacks in funding.
  • The question of whether or not I’ll ever find an audience for my book, or if it will simply be another project I complete and tuck away to gather dust.
  • How do I pay for all of the events and conferences that I need to participate in if I want to make connections and grow as an artist/writer/educator/speaker?

But, despite those thoughts floating in my head, I realized on the drive that I love the journey. I love the fact that I could give myself the afternoon off. I was able to treat myself to a ginger carrot soup made out of fresh ingredients at the Botanical Garden’s cafe. I had worked hard all week, and though I have more to do, I am able to say “now is the time to walk in nature and feel the sun on my face.” I love being able to set my own schedule which includes writing a list on a yellow pad everyday and then crossing it off with a sharpie. This some kind of visceral pleasure in seeing those lines cross off goals that I achieve on a daily basis.

I found myself smiling during my walk, and the smile wouldn’t go away.

Today I realized that I will forget about all my worries and celebrate the changes the my life brings. It’s an adventure, and I always find away.

I hope you join me and enjoy the beauty of change.

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A Story from the Heart, or The Writer I Want to Be

I’ve been doing A LOT of reading lately.

I’ve been reading books of all types and genres. Sometimes I read for escape, but more often than not I am reading to figure out who I am as a writer. One of the flaws of the course I am taking is that it will soon shift into focusing on how to market your book, instead of just on the writing of the book. This is great in the sense that I will have a complete package ready to send off to publishers or agents or  whoever I find the courage to send the book too, once it is finished. But, I find focusing on the market sometimes makes it harder for me to write.

What’s the use of writing if you only write to sell, rather than write to tell a story?

It’s no use marketing something if I cannot finish it.

My struggle lies in naming the genre of the book. I have called it fantasy, but it doesn’t fall into the land of fairies of  elves made famous by writers like Tolkien.  The book that to me has the closest relationship to the story I want to tell is The Handmaid’s Tale  by Margaret Atwood, so I guess you could call my project a dystopian novel or a work of speculative fiction, but that doesn’t cover the story either, or incorporate the “magical” elements. And I am not Margaret Atwood.

So I’ve been reading, searching for examples of what I am writing. In reality, I think, I’ve been searching for a reason to keep writing– evidence that the story I am telling might be interesting enough for someone to read.

I’ve figured out what my book is not. It is not a paranormal romance, although there is an element of paranormal in it and I’m not sure yet whether or not romance will play a role. It is not a literary novel, or at least not one that plays with language and focuses more on character than on plot, although I think I usually write more with character in mind. It is definitely not chick lit.

So what, exactly am a I trying to write?

I still don’t know. So I keep reading, trying to write, and searching for who I am as a writer.

This morning I finished a book that showed me who I want to be as a writer. Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock is is an emotional roller coaster. I cried off and on throughout, especially through the last few chapters. However, it was so beautifully written, and the characters were so interesting I enjoyed every moment of the emotional journey. Hancock writes with lyricism and brutal honesty. She writes a story from the heart, and that is what I love.

Here is the book description as found on Amazon.com:

“An unvarnished portrait of a marriage that is both ordinary and extraordinary, Dancing on Broken Glass takes readers on an unforgettable journey of the heart.

Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler probably shouldn’t have fallen in love, let alone gotten married. They’re both plagued with faulty genes—he has bipolar disorder; she, a ravaging family history of breast cancer. But when their paths cross on the night of Lucy’s twenty-first birthday, sparks fly, and there’s no denying their chemistry.

Cautious every step of the way, they are determined to make their relationship work—and they put their commitment in writing. Mickey will take his medication. Lucy won’t blame him for what is beyond his control. He promises honesty. She promises patience. Like any marriage, there are good days and bad days—and some very bad days. In dealing with their unique challenges, they make the heartbreaking decision not to have children. But when Lucy shows up for a routine physical just shy of their eleventh anniversary, she gets an impossible surprise that changes everything. Everything. Suddenly, all their rules are thrown out the window, and the two of them must redefine what love really is.”

The story carried me forward for a number of reasons:

  • Incredible writing that is beautiful, poignant, and honest.
  • Characters who felt real. Mickey’s voice, which we hear in the beginning of each chapter as well as at the end of the book, fascinated me, especially after reading some of the powerful posts Kathy has written over at reinventing the event horizon about her own journey dealing with being bipolar. Kathy has always amazed me, and somehow reading a story like hers in a fictionalized character just made me realize how incredible she truly is. I can say the same about the character of Lucy, the main voice of the story, whose journey made me think of another  amazing Cathie in my life, one who battled breast cancer while watching her daughter fight (and eventually succumb) to a rare form of stomach cancer. She is another woman who inspires me to live life fully because the future is uncertain. I was grateful to be reminded of her as I read the story of Lucy.
  • Although I knew I would cry, I loved the freedom of the tears. I really needed them

This book, combined with my recent reading of Gifts from the Seahave shown me who I would like to be as a writer. I want to write a story that touches people in many ways. I want a story that reminds people of their own lives, their own stories, their own dreams. I want to make people laugh, cry, scream, smile, or simply think. I want to write beautiful words full of meaning and emotion.

So that is the writer I want to be. The hard work will be getting there.

Kathy McCullough in her wonderful backyard, which she wrote about today (click the image to go to her post), when I met her last summer.

The other wonderful Cathie in my life. I stole this picture from Facebook.

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.


External Inspiration

“How many words should I write today?”
I ask Nathan in a playful way.

“At least 1000,” he replies
Leaving the topic for me to decide.

“Which story?” I ask. “What should I do?”
“You’re the writer, that’s up to you.”

“Do you think I should get away from here?
I seem to do better if I go somewhere.”

“How about the botanical gardens today?
You often seem to find inspiration that way.”

So I pack myself off to that garden of blooms
hoping to find the words hidden in my womb.

(After all the stories that have yet to be told
are like babies only a few days old.)

I wander, I walk, I wonder, I think
I sit at a table to write and to drink.

(Water of course, I’m not a  fool
alcohol is not a good writer’s tool).

My table overlooks a garden pool
My pen feels like a magic tool.

I write some words, some good, some bad
a journey into a life I’ve never had.

I don’t know where these words will lead
but I’m thankful for inspiration that planted the seed.

 

The Line Between Success and Failure

Have you ever had one of those days when the universe speaks and you know you better listen?

I’m having one right now.

I wasn’t planning on posting today. I have kind of reached a stumbling block in terms of blogging. Not writer’s block, as I still seem to still be prolifically pouring out posts on a regular basis, but a block related to purpose. I don’t know why I blog. I am sensing a need for some change, but I don’t know what that means yet. Perhaps it is a re-purposing of this blog. Perhaps I need a new blog completely. Or perhaps it is time to move onto something else.

Only time will tell.

However, three posts caught my attention this morning. Three posts, three messages from the universe, made me sit down (well Iwas already sitting) and begin to write.

Message #1 

The first was a simple announcement from a blogging friend saying that she was closing up shop and starting over in a different blog space. Being the dedicated follower that I am, I wandered over to Deborah’s new blog to read her first post, where she wrote:

“I’ll be honest with you. Change freaks me out. All those moving parts, details to manage, so much upheaval. Things get lost, stuff isn’t where you remember. It gives me palpitations.

But that’s precisely why I like it, too. Great stuff happens when I’m slightly off balance. At least there’s the potential. That’s why I make myself go through the scary parts.”

My life has been all about change in recent years, but at the same time it seems like I am on a bicycle without wheels, peddling as hard as I can but unable to move forward. I don’t want my life to be like that. It’s time to push myself through the scary parts.

Message #2

Whenever I am looking for inspiration or motivation, or simply deep thought, I know I can turn to the fabulous blog Mirth and Motivation. Elizabeth always writes thought-provoking and calming posts. Today, she wrote “Inspiration: Embracing the F Word” (no, not that F-word. Get your mind of the gutter).  In my Morning Pages I have been writing a lot about failure lately, as well as trying to understand how I define success. Because, in reality neither of those terms have any meaning, except the meanings we ascribe to them. Unless, as many of us do, we let society define those words for us. I have done that too often. It is time for me to create my own definition of both failure and success, so that I can look back on my life without judgment. I want to be able to look back on my life and simply say “I lived fully.”

Message #3

The final message came from Terry over at The Incredible Lightness of Seeing. She always speaks to my soul with moving images, quotes, and brief snippets of her life. Today she shared her experiences conquering her own fears at Bandelier National Monument and I found inspiration from her journey. She writes:

“Trying something new and conquering a fear makes one grow as a person. When I began taking boot camp classes last year, I learned how beneficial it is for mind, body, and spirit to challenge oneself. Just because I’m nearing 60 doesn’t mean I can’t try new things. And I’m so thrilled that I did.”

I’m so thrilled that she shared that story, and the pictures that go with it (please visit her blog to see them, it is worth every moment). Perhaps it is time to try something new and for me to grow in a new direction.

The Meaning Behind it All

Yesterday Sarah invited a friend over for a play date, which seemed like a good solution for two people who seem to be constantly battling each other at this moment in time. A buffer of sorts. I watched the girls go exploring up the rocky hill that is my back yard, snapping photos of their journey. They discovered some old bark slabs, that they said “looked like a wooden skirt.” They brought a piece down to show me, and I said,”that would be a great background for a painting.” They went up and grabbed more pieces, and the creation began. They even grabbed a piece for me.

“I used to hate art,” Marissa said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t understand the rules.”

I kept painting, just following my whim and whatever instinct guided me.

“What are you doing?” Marissa asked.

“Just going with the flow,” I said. “To me art is just about going with the flow.”

“Me too,” Sarah said. “I learned that from Miss Jackie.  Just go with the flow, and if you make a mistake try something else.”

The messages are beginning to coalesce into a whole–I need to go with the flow, trust in my ability to change, and stop defining myself in terms of success or failure.

The line between success and failure is myself.

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