Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Flash of Fiction

The days have grown shorter and night falls somewhere around 4:30. I've never liked this time of year. The short daylight hours are depressing and like some folks I have experienced that SAD that slows us down in winter. However, as a writer, there is a plus side to all this darkness.

It's early morning and I fill a glass with warm water, lemon juice and honey and head to my writing room. I light a vanilla scented candle, cradle my rose quartz in my palms and close my eyes. The silence and stillness of morning calms me and sends me into a writing mood. After a few minutes of meditation it's time to get to work.

At present I am working on a self-made course under the tutelage of poet and teacher Lorraine (Bird) Mejia. I have the new collection by Mary Oliver titled "Devotions" and I am using that as a guide. Each morning I open the precious book to a random page and read the poem. I copy down a line or two that strikes my heart and then write my own poems from those ideas. It's a challenge since I generally write poems that just pop into my head. I usually don't like writing poetry from prompts but I love a challenge and I'm enjoying this. I'm also trying to write longer poems that have more meaning. Sort of following the pattern of Mary Oliver's poems that hone in on details of nature and then attach a universal human element or life lesson.

I can't compete with the beauty and depth of her poems but I can do my best and hopefully come out at the end with a new collection of my own.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Be the 100th Monkey

In the early 1950s a group of monkeys on an island was observed and a very important lesson emerged.

Sweet potatoes were dropped from airplanes for the monkeys and they began to eat them. However, not liking the grit of the sand on the potatoes, one young monkey went to a nearby stream and began washing the sand off the potatoes. She taught her mama to do the same and pretty soon all of the monkeys on that island were washing sand off the sweet potatoes in the stream.

At a certain point a total of one hundred monkeys were engaged in this potato washing activity and, to the surprise of scientific observers, at the same time monkeys on other neighboring islands began to wash their sweet potatoes too.



There is speculation as to whether or not this actually happened or if it is a folklore story used to present a point. The point is this: If enough people, or monkeys as it were, engage in a specific activity, soon other tribes will begin to do the same. The lesson seems clear and is especially poignant for the times we are faced with today.

Hatred spreads because that's what we see. Anger begets anger, prejudice and aggression beget more of the same. The time has come for all of us to take action by engaging in kindness and acceptance, by helping one another and spreading positive messages. Perhaps kindness can beget kindness. If enough of us behave in a compassionate manner maybe, just maybe, compassion can overtake the waves of hatred crashing across our country.

Go out in the world and spread kindness and compassion. Be that 100th monkey who causes a tsunami of good deeds, gentle words, and right thought to spread throughout the world.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Power of Poetry

I believe that poetry, both reading and writing it, has the power to fill our hearts, change our minds, and feed our souls. When prose refuses to bend and comply with my expressive wishes I turn to poetry in order to get my feelings on paper. I prefer accessible poems and poets who I can relate to, who see the world in such minute detail that I view the world in new ways and come to think and feel differently.

Early morning is the most conducive time to write poetry, read poems, or read about poetry. The stillness and quiet, the blue gray light of dawn, a bird singing somewhere on a tree branch. The sun peeking like a rose over the tips of the trees all lend an ethereal feel that sings poetry to me.

Today I received Mary Oliver's newest collection of poems called "Devotions."


It is a collection of poems from all of her previous books. I never tire of reading her work. So singularly does she describe the fauna and flora of her native homes of Ohio as a child, Provincetown, Massachusetts as a grown woman, and now Florida as she enters her 80s and continues to be the diva of nature poetry.

Having all these poems in one book is heaven, and knowing these are favorites fills my heart. Touching the book brings pleasure and I will drink in each poem slowly and with great attention and care.

I plan to use these poems as launching points for some new poems of my own. She is such an inspiration in all ways. No one I have read ever has described a swan as a boat filled with white flowers, or a blue heron as a Buddha, or the tight green fist of a peony bud as something powerful enough to break her heart as the pink lace like petals unfurl in the spring sunshine.

I know reading these poems again will enable me to see my own natural environment as the treasure that it is and to be able to write poems that honor each moment I spend outdoors in this world.

Thank you Mary Oliver for your poems and your astonished attention to nature, and to your ability to tell about it in the most beautiful ways.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Rejuvenating My Writing Energy

For the past few weeks art has overtaken my writing energy. I love art journaling and using visual images to express myself. I also love getting paint all over my hands and engaging in play on the page through intuitive abstract painting. But at heart am a writer and I need to get my head back in that game.

I did accomplish quite a bit of writing in the online class I took in August, but once it was over I returned to art. Now it's time to write and as synchronicity would have it Melanie Faith is offering a prompted daily writing class through WOW-womenonwriting.com. It begins on November 1st--just in time. I have a few weeks to reset my mind. Melanie is a wonderful and supportive teacher and I have taken many classes with her in the past, both in fiction and poetry. Her guidance is wonderful and she shares lots of prompts, quotes and inspiration on a daily basis. The class lessons are guided by Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones" which is an iconic writer's guide I've read it twice and look forward to rereading my dog-eared copy when I take this class.

Let's face it, or let me face it, I don't think writing a novel is in my life. It's an onerous task and I'm too old for it, though I haven't totally trashed the idea yet. It seems any time I open a novel and begin to read the urge to write a novel returns. It sends tiny electrical charges through my nervous system and my veins and I can almost feel my fingers tingle with the anticipation of moving pen across the blank page or letting my fingers tango over the keyboard. I'm destined to write, or doomed to write, whichever way you, or I, wish to see it. It's like breathing to me and to not write is to suffocate.

I hope to post some of what I write in this class on this blog though I am still not sure of copyright issues or the potential to have a story stolen. Perhaps that fear ignores the fact that who wants to steal my stories anyway. I'll figure it out but I hope my readers will join me on this journey. Perhaps send out a few words to your writer and reader friends to hop on this blog and see what I come up with.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing for 20 Minutes a Day

I recently enrolled in an online class that requires writing for twenty minutes a day. The class is offered by Story Circle Network which is an international organization that provides support and resources for women who want to tell their stories. If you are a woman who writes I highly recommend joining. The class I'm taking is facilitated by Len Leatherwood who is an amazing teacher. I've taken several classes with her and have always benefited by her encouragement and guidance.

This class has helped me to rearrange some of my thoughts about writing. Initially I thought the class would help me do more free writing. I just finished a poetry collection and a chapbook of flash fiction and I wanted a break from such structured types of writing. But in the end the reverse actually happened and it has opened an old but sealed off door for me.

In the first week of the class I used my morning journal time to write pieces to submit. In the process I reawakened my desire to write novels. I had abandoned my novel in order to write shorter works as well as to work more in my art journals. But I know I can never totally stop writing novels. I love to read them and they are fun to write. Yes, at times I don't feel like writing. Yes, at times the idea of writing a 300 page manuscript is overwhelming, and then there is the reality that it will need at least three revisions in order to call it finished. But I'm running out of excuses not to write my novel.

I have plot and subplots. I have characters. I have a strong outline. And I've written several pages already. Well, many pages.

What I concluded is that in the next three weeks of this class it would be an excellent and productive use of my twenty minutes of daily writing if I spent those writing minutes writing the  third version of a first draft of this novel that has been plaguing me for seven years. Why not use the time to get this novel back on its feet instead of just writing three pages a day that will go nowhere?

The challenge is set. I need to use this time to write my novel and I hope that those twenty minutes stretch into a couple hours a day of writing so I can get this done.

I'll keep you posted. Come along for the ride!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Community of Writers

Writing is of course a lonely activity. You sit at your desk with silence and solitude your best friends. Closed doors are a treasure and you get settled in, shutting down your phone and disconnecting your internet. You don't want distractions or interruptions, Alone at the keyboard or notebook you let the plots of your novels unwind as you meet new characters who help or hinder your protagonists' goals. Along the way you conjure up stories in the most magical but comprehensible language you can muster and it is a lovely way to spend a few hours a day.


But eventually you need a community of other writers. When I lived in New York I had such a group. Over a period of fifteen plus years we met one Saturday a month to commiserate over wine and good good. We shared what we had been writing and received gentle but honest critiques. We talked about our personal lives and about the challenges of writing and trying to get published. It was a welcome three hours a month for writers who spend so much time alone.

We called the group "Tapestries" because we saw ourselves as seven women intricately woven together in this writing journey. Over the years some members came and went but there were three of us who endured for most, if not all, of those fifteen years. We were lucky because we all had a common commitment to writing and to the group. Our writing ability was fairly equal and finally in the last few years we were each writing a novel. A critique group working on a common genre is easier to navigate and more effective. Lucky too that our personalities meshed well, which isn't always easy with a group of women. We got along so well that finally we created our own writing retreat.

Twice a year we headed to Montauk Point and stayed in the Sea Crest Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Amagansett. There we experienced the privacy and solitude we needed to write since we were away from family and household errands and chores. There was nothing to do but write and read, and of course eat and drink wine and tea.


Though three of us shared one apartment and we were not totally alone, we were all there to work on whatever novel we were in the process of writing or revising. There is something about that collective energy of a group of people sharing a similar goal with a similar need for silence and time to work. That energy infuses the writer with motivation to do the work that must be done to get a novel written and ready for submitting to agents or editors. And it worked sublimely. Even chilly and windy walks on the beach added to an ambience that enriched our creativity and our writing.

Now that I live in Southern California I don't have a writing group. I am looking for one because I want the support and critique of other writers. But it will never be the same as "Tapestries." There will never be that bond among a group of women with like spirits and like commitment to writing. I miss those gals terribly and wish I could fly back to New York once a month for our meetings. If not that than I would love to fly out twice a year and join them in Amagansett. 

Maybe then I could get this novel finished.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writing Begins with Yoga

I wake at dawn as soft light penetrates through the window blinds mere feet from my bed. Though the idea of staying cozy beneath the sheets is tempting my bladder and my brain have other ideas. The bladder, well that needs no explanation. When she calls I must answer and once I'm up my brain kicks in and going back to sleep is a lost and foggy idea.

As I brush my teeth and wash sandy sleep from my eyes, ideas begin to tumble along neural pathways and lodge themselves in wormy gray matter. Even if I'm sleepy, and crawling back into bed with my snoring husband is inviting, I push myself to my writing room. These precious silent minutes alone are perfect for a writer. What chances I get once my husband is awake will have to be carved out of the daily grind, or other adventures we take in our new home in Southern California. There is so much to explore and of course shopping, laundry and cleaning are additional critters pushing away delicate hours I could spend constructing poems or revising the new short stories mounting up in my notebook. Then there is the novel outline I've been sculpting for too long.

So I go to my room and gently close the white door, effectively blocking out the rest of my life. I walk to the window and as gray light turns golden I begin to stretch. I have found that yoga is a way to center myself before I get to my desk. It revs up the pathways in my brain and lets my muscles know they better wake up.

After stretching each muscle group and opening up my chest and hips with delicate asanas and deep breathing I go into sun salutation, a nice flow of yoga poses that both calm and alert my mind and body.

Now I am ready to sit at my desk, awake and focused. I begin with morning pages as per Julia Cameron and "The Artists' Way." This not only lets me vent any concerns and get the minutiae out onto the page, it also helps me focus my writing goals for the day, week, month, year. Now I know where I am headed and I have a trail of deadlines to follow to get to the end. Morning pages also allow me to write about my diet and fitness goals. You can't sit in a chair all day and not get up and move. I have to have a plan to keep my body healthy and strong so I can accomplish all these writing projects.

Beginning the day with yoga helps bring focus and flexibility to my body and to my writing.

I will add some candlelight and watch the pages and stories mount up as the light gentle flickers and scents the room with vanilla.