About wakeupprincess

I am a writer, a seeker, a discoverer, a poet, a painter, a woman with something to say about a variety of topics. Some topics are difficult but they are real. Some are sheer silliness.

Conjecturing

I call this exercise Conjecturing.  Imagination let’s you play with what you’ve accepted as the way it is or was.  Imagination opens doors to other possibilities–what if’s, if only’s and dream on’s.  Fairytales, we discover, can be altered.  Following is my poetic rendition using the fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood.

What if Little Red Riding Hood
wasn’t so little
and the color, red, was a camouflage
in a maroon forest
and the wolf was tamed
or on vacation?

What if Little Red’s mother
drove her to grandma’s house
on some well-traveled highway
and the woodcutter
was a truck driver
in some other state?

What if Little Red
was a lot older and wiser
and understood wolfish ways
and detours?

And, what if grandma
lived with Red and her mom
and no one had to go anywhere
afterall
with a basket of goodies?

What if the world weren’t so dangerous
and the unknown wasn’t dark and scary
only unknown
and talk over tea and cookies
were the universal fare
and war was obsolete.

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I’ve used the “what if” technique to encourage the imagination to play with and rewrite a story that can be traced back to Europe preceding the 17th century (there are many different versions of Little Red Riding Hood).

WolfandRed.final

Writing Prompt:
Is there a fairytale that you’d like to recreate? In prose or poetry, employ the what if  technique and see where you can go with it.  Flights of fancy can take you to surprisingly new territory (and out of the woods).  Enjoy the process.

Writing Tip:
Conjecturing with “What if” is a good way to move through a writer’s block.

Note:  All of the art on these blog posts is my own. This piece was inspired by a class I took with Alissa Millsap called Barn Painting.  With general guidelines, I tend to go in my own direction and this painting is where I went.

Writer’s Block Reverie

Reverie.1

Several years ago, I took a refresher online writing class with a nomadic creative writing instructor.  She was travelling throughout Mexico, it seemed a pleasure trip, while supplying lessons via the computer.  She had a well-planned curriculum; there was homework and other requirements. I had virtual classmates and it was actually quite fun!  It was a bonafide course offered by the local junior college with college credits.

My final paper was an essay on writer’s block with several works cited.

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Following is an excerpt from that paper…

“There is no such thing as writer’s block,” I’ve been heard to say.  “Think of it as a period of gestation, a between-world where something is brewing and you need to be patient while nurturing yourself.”  I sympathetically add, “Do something else that is creative, just to keep the juices flowing, the channels open, blah, blah, blah.”

Here I am with this paper coming due and I find myself in a barren crevasse.  I’ve done what any frustrated woman might do–I’ve air-popped a large bowl of salty popcorn with a compromise of coconut oil instead of butter.  I know there’ll be a price to pay later–upset stomach and kernels wedged between my teeth–but right now, I’m desperate.

In her book, If You Want to Write, Brenda Euland has a chapter entitled “The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly.” (24)

Writers do have to bank on this idea.

“You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right…know in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later.”
(Euland 24,25)

I’m sure if she could see me in this moment, stuffing fistfuls of popcorn into my mouth, she’d know that I am a writer in waiting.

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WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal. When you experience your version of writer’s block, how do you deal with it? How do you feel when you are in this state? Have you tried writing about this experience? Can you describe your writer’s block by writing down the details? Are there things you can liken it to–using simile, metaphor, personification? What is your recourse when you encounter this seemingly static energy?

Have fun exploring your brand of writer’s block reverie.
Perhaps this writing exercise is the breakthrough you need.

Poetry a la carte…poem of the moment

Following my parents’ passing, less than six months apart, I went deeply into that grief place. Accompanied by an unsettling anxiety. For comfort, I read stories of rescued animals that became the most amazing pets.  I remember thinking “That never happens to me–an animal has never showed up on my doorstep.”

Within one week…

golden1

Rescued Me
© by Christine O’Brien

I want to withdraw
to retreat into an old
outworn cocoon,
to send him on his way.
But he snuggles in close
and wraps his arms around me
like a security blanket.
I nuzzle in, wondering about this attraction–
where did he come from?
While wanting to push him away,
I relish this closeness.
I tell myself, I deserve such tenderness!
I deserve such gentle love!  I do!
I read to him of the mythology of horses,
their mysticism,
of the heroine’s journey.
He rearranges himself
as I stroke his warm back
as his purr vibrates
through my belly.
I savor the favors he offers–
a fair trade for food and water.
At night, he usually roams,
but last night, he slept on a chair
in my living room,
this wandering feline.
I’m restless.
I want this stealer of hearts
to leave, to be on his way
for he has stirred
the river of possibility
that I am
–loveable.

****
This purring cat settled on my lap for several hours.  The vibrational quality of the purr helped to calm me.  He returned often and gradually helped me through the grief.

Writing Prompt:
Have you had a magical experience with an animal–pet or otherwise?  Have you written about it?  Why not write about it now?  You decide whether prose or poetry…or does it inspire a painting or collage?

Essentially Yours

We begin learning by imitation.  This is necessary for survival in the world into which we are born.  Then, comes the differentiation…the recognition that you are neither your mother nor your primary caregiver.  Waving your hands in front of your face, you begin to realize that these are your hands and under your control.  The very beginning of individuation!

In writing and art, you might begin by imitating, copying techniques, practicing methods, mixing colors as directed, learning the language, advancing your use of tools and studying your genre of choice, etc.

As you further your education, what is bursting to emerge is that which is essentially yours.  How do you weave together all that you’ve learned and then, in which direction are you going to take it? Many artists speak about style.  Some artists fear being copied.  Other artists are flattered at being imitated. Every artist wants to receive credit for their creations.

I do think that there is within each one of us is that which is essentially your own. When you are in the copycat stage, there is an awareness that this is only the springboard that is going to take you to your very own style.  Style can be seen as the way in which you uniquely put the various constructive components of your chosen art together.  There is  a certain something that emanates from your writing or art that comes to be seen as your style.  At first, perhaps, you yourself can’t see it because it is so basic to you. I’ve found that others often recognize my style of  painting before I do!

In your daily life, there is a way you go about things. From the way you greet the day, to the foods on your shelf, to the arrangement of furniture in your home or how you dress.  I doubt that any two individuals do any of these exactly the same. Through experimentation, daring and trust–whether writing, sculpting or painting, –you are going to find a way to express that which is essentially yours.

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you perceive your writing or painting to be essentially yours?  What do others notice when they read your poetry or prose?  What do others point out when they look at your art?

koala

 

Now…and Then

“10,000 flowers in spring
the moon in autumn
a cool breeze in summer
snow in winter–
If your mind is not clouded
by unncecssary things
this is the best season of your life.”
by Wu-Men (Chinese poet)

Isn’t that a secret we’d like to have an answer to–how to stay present within this moment and not drift off into the past, future, fear, worry, conjecture, etc?  At least more of the time. Being present to one’s daily life experience is desirable.

However, when we write (or paint or create art), we move in all directions, don’t we? There is very little that is linear about the creative process, especially in the initial stages.  That said, I begin with an intention.  Even if I seem to veer off course.  For me, setting a creative intention rouses personal process. The goal then is to stay present with my process as I write or paint–wherever it might take me (even when it changes course from my original creative intention).

Year ago, I began reading a translation of the French author, Marcel Proust’s classic, Remembrance of Things Past, otherwise known as In Search of Lost Time.  At that time, I found that reading the first volume (one of seven) was both laborious and tedious.  My mind stumbled over the slow revelation and wanted to skip ahead to get to the story behind the array of descriptive words.

Today, I realize that one of the author’s intentions was to explore memory itself and take the reader on a journey through his process around resurrecting his memories.  He considered both voluntary memory and involuntary memory.  An often recounted episode from his book is the memory evoked when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea!

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

WRITING PROMPT:
Invoking a memory is considered a voluntary memory as you have chosen to retrieve a memory from the past and write about it. Proust compares voluntary memory to involuntary memory–which has a visceral quality to it and can therefore be expressed as a vivid and direct experience with greater impact for the writer and the reader.
Have you had this experience…something in the moment triggers an old memory and brings it fully into the present…so much so that all of your senses are awakened around that memory?  Have you written it down?

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In the movie Ratatouille, at the end, the food critic is sampling the chef’s ratatouille dish and is transported back to his childhood and the savory comfort food that his mother served him.  He is personally comforted by the memory as his tastebuds approve of the dish.

(Click on the play arrow and then click on “YouTube” on the bottom right corner and you will go directly to this clip.)

Letter Writing–When was the last time…

letterforbackdrop

you wrote someone a letter?

When my ex-husband was in the Coast Guard, I wrote him letters.  These letters (I have some of them) were comparable to keeping a diary except that they had a recipient. Rereading them, I notice how I chronicled my daily experience. Was that where this first began, the need to put my life on paper? I wonder. When I moved far from my childhood home, I wrote my parents & siblings letters.  (I have some of these.)

Then there are the letters I’ve received over the years–sometimes notes scribbled in greeting cards–like opening a gift from someone dear to me.  Often, long and laboring letters whereby the author wants to be known to me in some way. Perhaps he or she shares a bit of philosophy, a challenge, a dream, a story, a goal or a memory.

One of my brothers lives off the grid some of the time.  He hasn’t set up a voice mailbox on his phone.  I can’t leave him telephone messages!  He doesn’t have email or do texting. What is my recourse?  Sitting down and writing him a letter (sometimes a postcard). Letter-writing maintains this connection that I value.

It’s so easy to slip someone a text or an email.  There is something quite different about intentionally sitting down at a table or desk and writing a letter. Paper, pen, ink and you. There is a drift your thoughts take as you contemplate the one who is going to receive this letter.  What do you want to say to them? What is, perhaps, going to be preserved on paper?

By the way, we’ve seen whole biographical books created from someone’s found letters. Or we’ve read excerpts from handwritten letters that are descriptive or used to substantiate a claim made by the author. Do you personally see any value in letter writing?  Is it a lost art?

WRITING PROMPT:
Is there someone in this wide world that you’d like to write a letter to?–do it today.

WRITING TIP:
Letter writing, at least now and then, keeps your writing flow going.  Writing letters can only enhance any other writing you do.

A Few Craftsperson’s Tools

As writers, our initial task is to get something down on paper, uncensored.  If we want to make a piece “public”, or refine it for our own satisfaction, then the process of crafting begins.

I often think of crafting as sculptors have described:  setting the sculpture free from the marble.  So it is with writing.  We have extraneous words, not the precise word, unclear thoughts, a lack of cohesiveness.  In refining his or her work, the writer employs some basic editing tools in order to set his or her piece free of what is superfluous.

  • Have nearby: a dictionary, a synonym finder and a rhyming dictionary (if you are rhyming poetry)
  • Look for imprecise words…ask yourself if there is a better word.  When you find the precise word, you typically have an economy of words.
  • Notice if the words you’ve chosen are interesting and varied.
  • Have you used figurative language effectively?
  • Look within the structure of a sentence and ask yourself “Can I say this better?”
  • Read your piece over paragraph by paragraph or verse by verse.  Within each paragraph or verse, look for unnecessary repetition.
  • Remember the beginning, middle and end segments of a paragraph.  Is the paragraph cohesive unto itself?
  • Does one paragraph or verse flow into the next?
  • Have you said what you want to say?
  • Is there a conclusion?
  • Get in the habit of giving your poem or prose piece a title.

These are  a few crafting tools that you can employ, one at a time. This list is by no means a comprehensive one.

WRITING TIP:
This type of crafting is a word-by-word, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page process. Don’t attempt this when you are tired.

NOTE:  There are downloadable editing programs that you can find online though I haven’t personally tried any of them.
Ultimately, if you are publishing, hire a professional editor for refined and expert editing. They have their very specific tools and aren’t emotionally attached to what you have written.

IMG_4488

Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night.
The stars so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance:
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.

Is Poetry Accessible?

Some years ago, I encountered the poet/author, Gerald Stern. In this video clip, Stern recites two poems.  Each one evokes a very different feeling for me, the listener.  The first poem relates an event in the poet’s life and his response to it.  When briefly introducing his second poem, Stern states that it is “a more formal poem.  It almost rhymes.”

In my first two listenings, I didn’t understand all of the nuances of the second poem although it gave me goosebumps.  It touched something inside of me that does understand. Do you sometimes get the telltale goosebumps when reading certain poetry? That is your body’s involuntary response, a type of recognition.

No one can really tell you what you should get from a poem, painting or other work of art. When studying a painting in an art gallery, each viewer has his/her own “takeaway”. While there are ways to evaluate a work of art or a poem, it is not always necessary to deconstruct one. It feels right to me to sense my way into a painting or a poem…especially one that grabs me in an emotional or visceral way.

As a poet, there could be the tendency to want to analyze a poem you particularly like.  However, that can come later, after you’ve had your initial response and savored the essence of the poem. Listening to Stern read his poetry at least four times, I was struck by the way that he “occupies his poem” when reading it.

PROMPT:
What are your feelings after listening to each of the poems that Gerald Stern read?  Quiet yourself and listen a second time, a third time or more. Did you find his poetry accessible or relatable to your life in some way? Listening to poetry is an art in and of itself. Giving poetry your full attention, receptivity, is a good practice. You don’t need to comment or have a rebuttal ready.  If you are reading poetry in a circle, unless it is an agreed upon critiquing circle, your best response upon hearing a poem is to say “thank you.”