Archive for ‘writing’

Priming the Pump

November 13th, 2010

I just ordered this book from Amazon because I really, really need a creative nudge. Even though I’m a writer, not an artist, sketching helps the words flow for me when I feel like I’m stuck or in a rut. And I like Katherine Dunn’s work and loved the description of some of the exercises she offers.


September 8th, 2010

At the bottom of a long, hot arduous trail in Yosemite this summer, we ended up at a spectacular river that was crystal clear and icy cold from snow melt in the high country. Peeling off shoes and socks and plunging in to cool off was a revitalizing pause between hiking down and the long haul back up in unaccustomed high altitude. Sometimes we need a pause between stages of life, I think, but it’s a luxury not many of us have. After all, we have to keep going to work even when we don’t feel we’re doing a great job. We have to take care of the kids, even when we forget why we wanted to be parents. We have to sleep in the same bed, even when we wonder why we married the person we’re sharing it with. And life just keeps sweeping us along in its current, so how do we find a way to sit on the bank, cool off and gather energy to continue on?  I particularly need to press Pause right now in order to give my brain a break from pawing over stale, overworked ideas. I’m going to start by doing something totally different and unconnected with my job — a weekend of watercolors instead of words. I’ll keep my hands busy so my mind can relax and spin some new stories in the background without being hitched up to plow the same field day after day. The brain craves novelty and fresh experiences and play, and I’ve been treating mine like a work horse. Time to giddy-up and take it for a joy ride.

Be Me

April 10th, 2010

“Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.” William Blake

When I was in the doctor’s waiting room for an hour (yeah, I know they gotta make a buck by overscheduling), I made sure I had something to read to pass the time, and this quote lit up like a neon sign in the beige and taupe surroundings. It gave my spine a tingle. The passage it was quoted in was from a book I’d never heard of called Redefining the Corporate Soul, and the authors write, “Don’t straighten out your curves; they’re what make you stand out from the crowd. Find a way to exploit them, not eliminate them!”. Use what makes you different is one of my rules…live into your quirks and quandaries. For me, that means stop trying to deny my past, but instead, try to use what makes me unique, no matter how unpalatable it might seem at first glance or how embarrassing or how gauche or how white-trashy parts of my background might be. Be me. How easy and simple it sounds, but it’s one of the hardest things I ask myself to do in life.

Rx Poetry

March 6th, 2010

I was hungry for poetry when I woke up this morning, like having a jones for Starbucks Pumpkin Loaf, which I am so addicted to I only allow myself to have one slice on Sunday. I drove to Barnes & Noble to get me a big old helping of Antonio Machado, but none to be found, so I settled for Caramel Macchiato and ordered the book online. In an audio book I’ve been listening to on the way to work (more about that in a future Postcard from Fridaville), the author says that when you read a poem every day or even part of a poem, you have, as Blake wrote, “a moment in the day that Satan cannot find you.” Because we are always striving and striding toward our next big success or accomplishment or chore. Poetry requires silence and a slowing or stopping of time. But I find it hard not to be on the move, trying to outrace my demons, so I packed up my computer, iPhone, cords, books, notebooks, pens (right now I have to have Varsity disposable fountain pens in aqua and green ink) and went to a new coffee shop  (with the exact color of walls and floors and the right flowers on the table to induce writing). So far I’ve spent 35 minutes preparing to write, which leaves me 85 minutes in which to actually write. This place is called Hope and Union and the logo is a sheep suspended from a balloon. I’m not hip enough to know what it means, but I hope my thoughts will form a union with my words and pour like milk and honey into my computer. Until then, here is a poem to keep the Devil at bay for you and me. It’s by Czeslaw Milosz, one of my favorite poets, and it has haunted me ever since I first read it years ago:


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Doing My Homework

February 17th, 2010

I’m slowly making my way back into keeping a regular journal, working at it from different directions. The gluebooky way above in which I slap on some gesso and glue down things that seem to want to go there. I’m also keeping a journal of my year of change, trying to figure out if synchronicity is working in my life, if what seems to be chance is really a harbinger or messenger of change. I’m thinking about what happens in my life every day to see if I can find instances of change at work or if I’m taking steps myself to prepare for change in this transitional phase of my life. The other journal I’m keeping is the one-sentence-a-day diary proposed by Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project. I’m writing that one in the little 5 Year Diary by Tamara Shopsin. Oops and I forgot…Fridaville is being redesigned with some fun things planned like weekly “Postcards from Fridaville” sent out to people who sign up for them, so I’m keeping a journal of ideas on that. All in addition to my day job, for which I have a Skirt! Magazine notebook to keep me focused on coming issues. Just writing all of that down makes me feel unfocused and crazy — should I just have one notebook that all of this goes into? The separate ones seem to help me keep my different roles and goals separate, but I don’t know…maybe I’m just spinning my wheels. And I don’t want one of those 5-subject spiral notebooks from school because they make me think of warm cafeteria milk and math assignments I never finished. Big shiver down my spine just imagining it. How do you keep track of all your projects?

Resisting the Door Trying to Open

September 15th, 2009

When I start a writing project or even begin thinking of one, I alternate between flashes of excitement and great despair or resistance to the idea. I allow myself to fall into blank discouragement — and when it happens, it feels like a physical collapse in which I question the idea’s uniqueness, wonder if it’s useful, convince myself I can never pull it off and then sit down on the floor and stare at the door closed against me, unable, unwilling to push against it. Eventually I put my shoulder to the locked door and shove, or I sneak around it and enter through an open window, and I remind myself that this is just part of my normal way of working. It helps to know this is not something out of the ordinary, that my initial reaction doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a crappy idea, that I have to go through this to break through to the inner room of my imagination. And after all is said and done, aren’t I lucky to be able to do this for a living? What tricks do you use to break through to the other side?

1. Wear my earrings with Frida Kahlo’s eyes on them.

2. Feel beautiful.

3. Write 300 words on any topic whether I feel like it or not.

4. Listen to Latin music on

5. Say “gracias” all day long.

6. Be brave about the things on my Secret Fears List.

7. Give the world a wink.

Word Drought

July 2nd, 2009

A long weekend at my family reunion in Kentucky left me at a loss for words. The video word wall in my hotel was tantalizing — letters falling like rain, but my well was dry. I’m still trying to refill my creative reservoir, wondering if I’ll ever be able to put into words the craziness my family stirs up in me. Or if I even should. My usual reaction is to talk my dramas into the ground, beat the meaning out of them, analyze them so thoroughly that I could create a spreadsheet on every aspect of the experience. But I wonder if there are times when you just have to be speechless in order to hear your deepest feelings.


June 6th, 2009

I’m finding that writing my “autobiography” in 2400 words is more difficult than I imagined. Not only in trying to compress a life into such a short form, but also in trying to describe my life in a new language, new vocabulary. I think everyone gets used to certain stories they construct in their minds about how they grew up, stories they tell themselves or people they meet. It’s not necessarily an untrue version, but it does tend to become ossified over time or fall into certain cliches or set pieces. Maybe the story is “My happy childhood” or maybe it’s “My tragic childhood” — wherever it falls on the spectrum of experience, we tend to assign everyone roles that over time become mythologized in our minds. Deconstructing that story in order to see your life with fresh eyes is like teaching yourself to write with your left hand if you’re righthanded. For instance, I’m resisting writing about my relationship with my mother, which was complicated and unresolved on my part when she died. I tried writing it straight on, but it sounded like something out of a therapy session. I had to sneak up on it through little flash memories from the past, like the walks she took us on in the fall on the dusty back roads of our town, where we collected dried flowers and plants to put in the house. Especially branches of bittersweet berries bursting out of their shells–a happy uncomplicated memory. My mom reverting to the country girl she’d been. My mom who loved nature. My mom who knew the names of so many plants. Not the mother who found it so difficult to show affection. Not the mother abandoned and empty after my father left. Not the sadness I didn’t know was coming. Bittersweet.

Starting Out

June 2nd, 2009

I’m giving myself homework assignments for the summer, because evidently I need artificial deadlines in order to accomplish ANYTHING. So today was the first day of very own version of Summer School. I planned for it in the same way I used to prepare for the first day of school. Remember buying new supplies, getting your outfit ready the night before, waking up early full of anticipation? I can’t say I had the same level of excitement this time, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading and unlearning in advance of my self-imposed start date of June 1. My goal is to approach writing with a “beginner mind” for a change, with enthusiasm instead of dread or fear of failure. I write for a living every day and it’s fun, creative writing, but it’s my job. So I wanted to try something different, a project just for me and one that has a beginning and end date. Coming home every night and writing could be a drag after a full day of doing the same thing, but I’m trying to think of homework that resembles play more than work. (I’ll probably post some of the assignments I give myself on my other blog–Creative First Aid–from time to time, so feel free to audit the class!) Today, I started a 2400-word autobiography, but I’m not proceeding in any kind of chronological fashion. So far, so fun. I just hope I don’t get sent to detention or flunk out. I want to write my way toward that gate in the distance, the one that’s the color of a David Hockney pool, the color of imagination, the color of Wallace Steven’s blue guitar.