Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why Write

I've been reading Brenda Ueland's book, If You Want To Write , a book that is uncannily reflective of everything I've been thinking and experiencing about writing in the past year. Here are some of the things that have resonated with me just in the first couple of chapters~

~We all have a creative power, we're born with it, and we all have a need to express it. Children know this, and do it without thinking. But this free expression of creativity often gets "drummed out of us" by critical teachers, parents, friends, and society. We let this happen, because we fail to see how imporant it is to nurture this in ourselves by using it, and to encourage it in others by listening to them. For the only good "teachers" are the friends who will love you and encourage you, and think what you have to say is important and worthwhile, who will say, "tell me more" about the things you think and say and feel...

~We must practice our creativity with great intention, "with all your intelligence and love," and not perfunctorily..."a great musician once said that you should never play a note without hearing it, feeling that it is true, and thinking that it is beautiful."

~We must not let "duty" (the everyday things we must do) come before writing, because "writing~the creative effort, the use of the imagination~should come first, at least for some part of every day of your life. " The benefits are will become "happier, more alive, more enlightened, impassioned, light hearted, and more generous to everyone. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear, as will all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom..."

~Don't get caught up in modern society's view that if "there is no money in it, it's not worth doing." The intrinsic rewards of writing have been known for centuries. You know your own feelings better, you offer these feelings as a gift to the world, a world as Van Gogh said, was "so beautiful, he had to show others how it looked."

~The creative impulse is "a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and, in a direct, simple, passionate, and true way, you try to show this beauty to others by drawing (or writing) it." Don't be discouraged into believing that what you think about something isn't important or worth sharing..

~When you learn these things, you can write feeling, without feeling driven to succeed (at least according to socieities standards), but to accomplish your own best work for your own delight and satisfaction...

In just these ideas, in just these two chapter, Ueland has validated everything I've come to learn about the process of writing over the past year. And this blogging community~what better group of "loving friends" to offer my insight and feelings too, all of us encouraging and listening to one another.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of what she has to say...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Two People Coming Out of A Building

I had just taken a sip of coffee, carefully slurping from the white styrofoam lid, fearful of burning lips already bruised from the chill November wind, when I happened to glance up and see the smoky glass doors across the street being thrust open. The coffee -too hot, and bitter now as well-pooled in my mouth, my throat automatically constricting at the sight of the couple who had burst through them, refusing to allow any liquid past the hot bile rising reflexively from the pit of my stomach.

The young woman, her white wool coat belted tightly around her slender waist, long auburn hair whipped back by a gust of wind, was laughing gaily, pushing the door open with one hand and gesturing broadly with the other. I could sense the sparkle in her eye, hear the musical laughter from her throat, even though I was physically too far removed to actually experience it. She pushed forward onto the sidewalk, her body radiating the excitement of someone stepping forward into a much anticipated future. Closely behind her, smiling proprieitarily down at her, his eyes fixed on the ruby colored lips of her laughing mouth, he touched the small of her back as she passed through the door, nudgine her ever so gently into the world outside the confines of this building.

Side by side, their shoulders brushing intimately against one another, they stepped purposefully onto the street, his head leaning down towards hers, so that not one golden word which escaped from her lips would be lost to him in the November wind. My eyes continued to follow them as their pace increased, so eager they were to stride into the future.

My coffee, cooled now, it's bitterness only enhanced by the lukewarm temperature, at last slid down my throat, as they disappeared from view around the corner of the building, a snatch of her white coat my last glimpse of them. I lifted the cup again to my lips, my eyes drawn back to the entryway opposite me. The heavy glass doors were silent and closed now, the golden letters announcing "County Clerk's Office" a fitting punctuation to the end of this story. Rising from the cold iron bench, wrapping my hands around the paper cup of coffee, I turned my back to the building and walked away.

An exercise from Now Write!, "Two People Come Out Of A Building...and into a story"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Readers in the Family

I was the first reader in the family - well, not literally, for they all knew how to read, my parents, and grandparents. They certainly were good readers. They just didn't love it, didn't have to do it they way I did (and do), didn't become agitated and restless if there was no book available to hold onto, to dive into, to inhale deeply into the brain like the smoker sucks deep whorls of tobbaco into the lungs. Books - words- images- ideas - have always been life's blood to me.

Where did that come from then, that need to read? I know where the music came from, that was easy, from my grandmother, who would sit at my piano when she thought no one was listening and play glorious hymn tunes straight from her inner ear to her fingers, no printed music on the page for a go-between. And perhaps the reading was from her as well, for she was the one who was always ready to pull me onto her lap and open the book, even if it was the middle of the night and I was up with croup yet again. Likely there was little reading time for her, the eldest of seven, in that country farmhouse with so many chores to be done each day. Perhaps, had she had my advantage, of the library down the road, and the bookstore up the street, she too would have developed a strong addiction to the printed word, the one that sends little frissons of excitment up my spine everytime I walk into Borders.

I am the reader in my family now...where will that reading gene end up next?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Photograph

This exercise is from Now Write:
(photo borrowed from here)

Pick an image - a photograph from your personal life, an image from a magazine or art gallery, part of a memory - have in your mind a picture that is framed which will serve as the basis for your writing. Set a time for 30 minutes and write a 1000 word sentence-no need to pay attention to stucture or punctuation, no need to edit. Just let it go...

Every damn day, Edward thought, no matter how crappy the weather, with no thought for how much the moisture filled wind battered his cheeks, or icy rain saturated his shoes, no matter if the sun burned a hole in his eyeballs and sent rivulets of sweat running in a stream down his back, every damn day, first thing in the morning, she sent him for the Globe, reminded him to take the quarters out of the bowl on her dresser ( you know the bowl Edward, the rosewood pottery bowl that belonged to Aunt Eleanor) the one where she always threw the loose change from the bottom of her purse so that it gathered in a silvery pool at the base of the mossy green pottery like glittering minnows schooled at the bottom of a meadow pond, as if he didn't know after 35 years of going for the damn paper every morning, that the place to get the two quarters he needed (it used to be only one quarter, than a quarter and a dime, and now two whole quarters, pretty soon it would be three the way the world was going, to hell in a handbasket, at least as far as Edward could tell from what he read in the headlines of the Globe as he walked home with it every morning) was in the rosewood pottery bowl that had stood on the dresser in their bedroom every since Aunt Eleanor died in 1972, which was when, come to think of it, he started going for the paper every damn morning, because she was pregnant then (his wife, not Aunt Eleanor, who was dead) and couldn't be bothered to get up so early to get the paper herself, so he started getting them for her, hoping that the smell of ink on the newsprint wouldn't bring on another bout of sickness, but that the news, good or bad, might instead distract her from the illness that plagued her throughout those days, an illness that seemed to stay deep within her, now that he thought about it, through all the years after, even when the baby, god rest it's little soul, had been born dead (no more, the doctor said, shaking his head) and duly buried in that tiny white coffin, even months later, she would still wake up sick in the morning, lying in bed with that cool moist cloth over her eyes, her voice weak as she reminded him where to find the quarter he needed, and he would trudge out the door, whatever the weather, to the row of newpaper boxes at the end of the street, just like he was trudging today, except today, he would buy no newspaper, today she had not reminded him of the rosewood pottery bowl, which he had in fact flung against the wall of the bedroom, watching it bounce off the steel rail of that hospital bed they had delivered three weeks ago, wincing as it struck the night table on its way to the wall, sending a confetti shower of brightly colored capsules and tablets flying from their plastic containers into a rainbow arc toward the ceiling, until it finally shattered, falling to the floor in a heap of green shards, today he would not even raise his head to look at the row of newspaper boxes, waiting patiently as they had been for 35 years, for Edward to take home the paper.

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Moment in Time

The dishwasher hums noisily in the kitchen, as it does every night about this time, the tired old motor complaining as it grinds itself into action once again. Every night as I flip the lever, I wonder if this will be the night it gives up the ghost once and for all, forcing me to make the long procrastinated trip to Sears and shell out another $500 I don't have. Luckily tonight, the old Kenmore mustered it up one more time, because I don't think I could have handled anything else going wrong today.

I retreat to this room, this spot, every evening about this time, the time when dinner has been done, the leftovers (we always have leftovers now that Brian is gone) stashed in neat little plastic bowls, the counters sprayed with Cinch cleaner and wiped free of all lingering bacteria. Inhaling the vibrant aroma of the mint green tea I like to drink after dinner, feeling the tangy spearmint leaves tingle against the membranes of my nose, I perch on the edge of the big black leather desk chair I splurged on a couple of years ago when I started working at home. I don't know why I never manage to sit back in the chair, always straining my already aching back as I reach toward the keyboard of the laptop. There's a reason they call these laptops, I think, wondering why I don't just unplug the thing and hold it on my lap, which would be so much more comfortable. But, I don't - I continue to sit rigidily on the chair as my hand hovers over the ever powerful little mouse, waiting patiently to bring my electronic world to life.

If I really stop to listen, I'm surprised by all the noises I hear in this room, the place that's supposed to be my "haven" from the goings on in the rest of the house. But this house, this two bedroom ranch, was not meant to provide quiet havens for any of its occupants. And now is certainly no exception. There is always the noise of whatever the television is playing ~ tonight it's gospel music from the Gaither Brothers Quartet, of all things. Sometimes it's auto racing, or James Bond, or the Terminator, something with horrendous sounds of people smashing their fists into the faces of other people, or crashing their cars into buildings. Whatever it is, and here again tonight is no exception, it makes me want to scream. I can feel my stomach twist into a little knot with the unexpressed anger at the assault on my senses. Why don't I say anything, you ask? Probably for the same reason I sit awkwardly in my chair rather than arranging myself in a more comfortable position~ too much bother.

So, here in my retreat, I have the growling hum of the dishwasher, the strains of some song with lyrics like "love America or die" in very broad four part harmony, the clatter and click of my fingers on the keys, and ~ wait, one more~ is that the skittering of tiny mouse feet in the attic? I believe it is.

No matter. The glow of the bulb in my tensor desk lamp is warm and inviting, the mint tea soothes the angry knot in my belly, while the cup that holds it~a handle-less little Japanese tea cup I bought in Disneyworld~warms my icy hands. This has become my habit of an evening, to linger here until bedtime, reading the words of my "friends" around the world, writing a little of my own now and then, perhaps curling up in the soft, overstuffed armchair to read a book for a while. Usually, the dogs will join me, and add their own little noises to the undercurrent~gentle licking of their lips, a tiny snore, an occasional warning growl from Magic if he's not in the mood for Molly's cuddling.

The evenings pass here, time passes with them. The dishwasher grinds to a halt and finishes it's work in heated silence. And I sit silently too, letting the cares of the day disappear into cyberspace, the noise of a busy world drifting away.

Written in response to a prompt entitled "Create A Written Snapshot," from Pen On Fire, by Barbara DeMarco Barrett

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hey, That Was My Idea!

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote my Write On Wednesday post about writers and their special friendships with other writers, I ran across a blurb in Orpah magazine about a new book called The Company They Kept: Writer's On Unforgettable Friendships, a collection of essays written by writer's regarding their writer friends. This isn't the first time I've had an idea about something and then seen it show up in published form somewhere else.

It started way back in the day when I was writing children's stories. The idea was for a picture book about two little boys who are friends, and all the things they liked to do together. Until one day, one of them does something the other one didn't like. So they storm off, mad at one another, only to realize how much they miss sharing all those things they liked to do together. I shopped the story around to different magazines, but it really needed illustrations to make it. And one day, in the bookstore, I saw a picture book by a very well known children's author with the exact same premise~on reading it, it was pretty much my story, too. Hmmm.

Not too long ago, I had an idea for a story or novel centered around a wedding dress that gets handed down through the generations of a family, and all the women who wear it. Lo and behold, I find a non-fiction book in the library called "My Life in Clothes," or something to that effect, which wasn't exactly the same idea, but close. It was a memoir centered about the author's wardrobe, and how it reflected her life through the years.

I suppose at least I can feel as if I have good instincts about ideas and what's "writable." But it's probably an indication that when I have an idea, I should get up off my butt and do something about it, because, if I don't, somebody else probably will.